Sharpton Will Ask Feds to Probe Mitrice Richardson's Death

It could be a test case for racial profiling of missing-persons cases, he told The Root. With minorities constituting half of the 48,000 adults already reported missing this year, here's what experts told us about the scope of the problem.

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Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton vowed this week to file a federal inquiry into the death of Mitrice Richardson, a missing 25-year-old woman thought to be mentally ill whose remains were found last week. She had been allowed to leave a sheriff's station nearly a year ago against the wishes of her parents.

"The National Action Network will send a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to ask for an official inquiry," Sharpton told The Root exclusively. "The incident must be raised to a review of what the process was compared to others in the area. It could be a test case of what's going on around the country, where missing African Americans are not considered a priority for law enforcement or the media."

Richardson disappeared on Sept. 17, 2009, from the Malibu-Lost Hills substation of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department in Calabasas, according to news reports. She had been released after reportedly exhibiting erratic behavior and failing to pay a dinner tab at a restaurant in Malibu. She was booked for defrauding an innkeeper and possessing less than one ounce of marijuana in her car, reports say.

Her mother, Latice Sutton, pleaded with deputies to hold her until family could pick her up because she was mentally ill and far from home, in the middle of the night, with no money, no purse, no cell phone and no car. The items were in her impounded vehicle, the report said.

But the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department said at the time that Richardson seemed rational and they believed they were legally obligated to release her. A draft report of the Office Independent Review, a watchdog panel for the sheriff's department, found that the department acted in due diligence. Additionally, the Los Angeles Times reported that Richardson was given an opportunity to stay at the sheriff's office but declined, saying she was going to "hook up with some friends."

But in a sad turn of events, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca announced, at a news conference late last week, the discovery of the remains of the former beauty pageant contestant. Her bones were found in a ravine several miles from the sheriff's station, reports say. Now her family has filed a civil negligence lawsuit against authorities.

Sharpton said that Richardson's death was emblematic of law enforcement's general lack of interest in finding and saving missing African Americans.

But unlike Figueroa's story, Richardson's became a fixture on some talk shows. The Cal State Fullerton graduate, who worked as an executive assistant in Santa Fe Springs, was counted among the missing in a feature last fall in People and had a Web site created for her benefit called Bring Mitrice Richardson Home.

James Lopez, a commander in the sheriff's office, told The Root that investigators "worked tremendous hours on the case." Nevertheless, Sharpton believes that law enforcement and the media engage in racial profiling when it comes to finding missing African Americans.

He is not alone. LaDonna Meredith, president of Let's Bring Them Home -- a Rogers, Ark.-based nonprofit organization that helps families and law-enforcement agencies find missing adults -- called it "the missing white woman's syndrome" or "the pretty girl syndrome."

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM