This case reminds me of another

Is anyone else seeing shades of Mitrice Richardson in the Ebonee Spears case I posted today? Obviously Mitrice’s disappearance and death is a much more egregious example of neglect, but Ebonee made me think of her.

Out of curiosity I Googled Mitrice, and I discovered her case was in the news as recently as this past November and is still under investigation. Sigh.

Unfortunately, when it comes to mental illness, the laws are such that unless the person agrees to get medical attention, the police and medical professionals usually can’t help. Almost two years ago I had a bad reaction to some medication and started hallucinating and having delusions and babbling nonsense and what have you. Michael took me to the hospital; they shrugged their shoulders and sent me home again. That night I kept trying to walk right through his glass deck door out into the winter cold, wearing only a turtleneck and underpants. Michael called the police and they came and assessed the situation, and they said there was nothing they could do. I wasn’t suicidal, and as long as I was indoors, I didn’t qualify as a danger to myself. They told him to just make sure I didn’t leave the house. Michael had to call his parents to come and stay up all night with me and physically prevent me from leaving. If it weren’t for the three of them, I almost certainly would have wandered off and frozen to death.

The situation totally sucks. How do you toe the line between respecting people’s civil rights, and making sure that they can get help when they really need it?

I really, really hope Ebonee doesn’t turn out to have shared Mitrice’s fate. But I’m not optimistic. It’s been a year.

The Mitrice Richardson controversy continues

Some kind soul sent me this really excellent article about Mitrice Richardson’s disappearance and death. I’m not even done reading it myself but I can see already that it’s worth a mention on the Charley blog.

The whole Mitrice thing was a massive cluster-you-know-what. Trying to figure out who was responsible for it all is like trying to find the individual drop of rain that was responsible for the flood. I’ve been in situations — I think we all have — where several different people each individually made mistakes, perhaps quite small ones, but each mistake was compounding on all the others, with very bad consequences, and afterwards you wonder where did it start and who’s to blame and by how much. It seems like that’s what happened with Mitrice. Another problem with what happened there seems to have been everyone’s insistence on protocol and toeing the line and all that. No one was willing to take any responsibility and be a little flexible. Perhaps everyone was performing exactly within all the rules when they released Mitrice from jail alone that night, but that doesn’t mean they were performing their duties properly. If that makes sense at all.

In other news, I am still in a lot of pain and still not enrolled in I-Match and still at a loss as to what to do about any of it. I’m thinking of taking up studying languages, maybe learning to read Yiddish on my own since I can’t attend school at present. If I can find something to concentrate hard on, I can forget about the headache and life becomes bearable for awhile. Languages would be a good thing to concentrate on.

MP news snippets

Per Justin: it looks like Mitrice Richardson’s parents and Los Angeles County have reached a settlement. See my previous Mitrice writings here. Los Angeles County has agreed to shell out 900k for whatever mistakes they made before and after her death. Personally, I don’t think she was the victim of a homicide, but this was a very tragic case all around.

The prosecutor in the Jeanine Sanchez Harms case has announced that the evidence proves Maurice Nasmeh, the prime suspect in her disappearance, killed her. Nasmeh had been charged with murder, but the charges were dropped to give the authorities time to retest crucial physical evidence. Now the tests are over. It’s a little late, though, because Harms’s brother murdered Nasmeh early this year.

Somehow I missed this, but last month John Skelton pleaded no contest to false imprisonment in the disappearances of his three sons, Andrew, Alexander and Tanner. The boys have been missing without a trace since last November and were probably killed by their father. Homicide charges may be filed in the future as evidence warrants. In the meantime, John faces up to fifteen years in prison at sentencing, which is scheduled for September 15.

The News Tribune has written again about Misty Copsey: this article about her disappearance and this article about possible suspects in her case. (I commented on the first article.) The News Tribune did a three-part series about Misty two years ago, which provided a lot of new information on the case.

A human skull found in Temple, Texas has been identified as Daniel Patrick Sullivan, a 55-year-old who’d been missing since April 2009. The police say there’s no evidence of foul play, but the death is under investigation and the cause and manner of death are undetermined. It looks like they haven’t found anything but the skull, which obviously places limitations on how much they can find out.

Jamie sent me this article about four senior citizens who have been missing Vancouver, British Columbia Huntsville, Ontario since the late nineties. They were “vulnerable” because they were estranged from their families, had health problems and had been in and out of homeless shelters. Their names: Joan Dorothy Lawrence (age 77), John James Semple (89), John Leroy Crofts (70) and Ralph Bernard Grant (69). Foul play is suspected in their disappearances.

Malibu body is Mitrice Richardson

The bone found in Malibu, California earlier this week, not very far from where Mitrice Richardson was last seen, have been identified as hers. The cause of death hasn’t been determined — and probably won’t be, given the decomposition — but the cops are saying there’s no indication of foul play. It looks like Mitrice just wandered away and kept wandering until she died of exposure or thirst or snakebite or whatever.

This was a tragic end to a very promising life. I feel so sorry for Mitrice’s family. Articles:

CBS News
Los Angeles Times blog
Los Angeles Times blog again
San Francisco Chronicle
Huffington Post

Remains found in a canyon in Malibu; are they Mitrice Richardson’s?

I’ve written a couple of times about Mitrice Richardson, who was arrested on minor charges in Los Angeles last September and vanished without a trace after she was released from police custody and left the station in the middle of the night with no cell phone, money or ride home. Her parents, her mother in particular, have blamed the police for her disappearance, saying they should not have let her go. But they are both hopeful she’s alive and lately her father’s been chasing Mitrice sightings in Las Vegas.

Well, human remains have been found in a canyon in Malibu, California, only a few miles from the police substation where Mitrice was last seen, raising speculation that they could be hers. The Los Angeles Times quotes an unnamed law enforcement source saying the bones are from a woman and women’s clothing was found at the scene.

In spite of this, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (the ones who let Mitrice go on the night of her disappearance) says he doesn’t think the bones are hers. I am a bit suspicious of this statement, which sounds like damage control to me. If he had a specific reason for thinking the bones weren’t hers — like, if they appeared to be from someone older, or taller, or something — that would be one things. But he doesn’t say anything like that, just that there are lots of people besides Mitrice missing in the area.

In any case, we should know soon whether Mitrice has been found or whether the cops need to start looking at other missing persons cases.

Mitrice Richardson’s mom sues Los Angeles County

Earlier I wrote about the strange disappearance of Mitrice Richardson, who vanished into thin air shortly after being released from police custody. She had been arrested on a minor charge. It came to light later on that she was probably suffering from an episode of severe bipolar disorder. She had no history of mental illness and in fact was a high achiever, graduating from college with a 4.0 average. She had also won some beauty contests.

Well, since the beginning Mitrice’s family has blamed the police for letting her go. They say the cops should have seen how strangely she was acting and held her for a psych eval. She definitely was acting oddly in the restaurant where she was arrested, but the police claim she appeared sane enough in jail and they have a legal obligation to release arrestees as soon as possible. For Mitrice, that meant in the middle of the night. Supposedly they offered to let her stay until daybreak, but she refused and left the station a little after midnight.

Now, Mitrice’s mother, Latrice Sutton, has sued the county over her disappearance. According to this article, she’s alleging wrongful death, emotional distress, and civil rights violations. I thought Sutton had filed suit before but it seems she only filed a claim or something. She’s seeking unspecified damages, but mainly the ability to learn more about the circumstances of Mitrice’s arrest and disappearance. Sutton says: “This magical lawsuit will allow me to obtain every single document in the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department and to depose every officer and detective involved.”

Reflections on Mitrice Richardson case

Today I wrote up and posted on Charley the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson, a very controversial case which I wrote about some months ago. She’s been missing under unusual circumstances since September 2009.

A quick rundown:

Mitrice, a 24-year-old black recent college graduate, was arrested at a restaurant for failing to pay her bill. This in spite of $2,000 in her bank account. People at the restaurant said she’d been talking about things that didn’t make any sense, claiming to be from Mars, etc., and the restaurant owner called the cops because he was concerned about her as much as anything else. The police found a small amount of marijuana in her car and arrested her for drug possession and defrauding an innkeeper. According to them, she was calm and polite and appeared to be quite sane while she was in their custody. She passed a field sobriety test, too.

A few hours later, they let her go. It was the middle of the night by then. They had impounded her car with her purse and cell phone inside it. Mitrice was unfamiliar with the area and had no money, and the buses weren’t running that time of night. The police claim they offered to let her stay till morning, but she said she wanted to go. She walked out and vanished off the face of the earth. Subsequently, mental health experts studied her journals and reports of her behavior just before her disappearance and they think she was suffering from some kind of nervous breakdown, possibly bipolar disorder.

Mitrice’s family has been up in arms and actually sued the police department, claiming they were negligent and caused her disappearance and probable death, and then tried to cover it up. According to the Richardson family, the police knew or should have known that something was wrong with Mitrice and they should have held her until she could get a psychiatric evaluation. The police have responded that (A) Regardless of what the restaurant people saw, the officers themselves did not observe any oddness in Mitrice’s behavior (B) She is an adult, was sober and appeared to be able to look after herself, and they have a legal obligation to let arrestees go as soon as possible and (C) Terrible as her disappearance is, there is no evidence that she’s dead.

Assuming that everyone involved is telling some version of the truth…I don’t know. I can see both sides of this. Obviously, hindsight being 20/20, the cops should have behaved differently. I can certainly see why Mitrice’s family is angry. On the other hand, if the officers didn’t see anything wrong with Mitrice, would they have really been on firm legal ground holding her for a psych eval based on what some third parties saw? Remember, she had no history of mental illness before, no criminal record, was a very high-achieving woman by all accounts. As for allegations that racism or homophobia (Mitrice is a lesbian) influenced the law enforcement’s behavior, I am not in a position to judge that.

I am reminded of an incident in my own life that had some similarities to the Mitrice Richardson situation. It happened like this:

I quit school when I was thirteen years old and was registered as a homeschooled student, to keep the truant officers off my back. The following year, at fourteen, I began taking classes at Ohio State and thus I got my education, but for the year in between I was left largely to my own devices. I was very isolated at the time and suffering from severe depression which went unnoticed and untreated by my parents. I spent a lot of time going on very long bike rides. Sometimes I’d ride like fifty miles in a day, through the countryside. It was one of the few things that brought me any pleasure.

I get lost really easily, unfortunately, and when I do get lost I tend to get upset. This is more likely to happen (both getting lost and getting upset about it) when I’m sleep-deprived. One day, having not slept at all the night before, I went on a long bike ride and wound up hopelessly lost, some 25 miles or so from home and going in the wrong direction. I spent an hour or two trying to get my bearings, getting more and more panicky. Then I decided to stop at a random house (I was out in farm country, not in town, btw) and ask for directions. By then I was crying.

A woman answered the door and found a slightly hysterical girl on her stoop. I was crying and trying to explain my problem, and perhaps she was the excitable type, I don’t know, but a severe communication problem developed, the end result being that the woman called 911 and said a strange girl had showed up at her house and didn’t appear to know who or what she was, and was acting crazy, so could someone please come and help her? I was like “WHAT?” Then I was thinking to myself: okay, calm down, and do it fast. And I did. A sheriff’s deputy showed up like ten minutes later and found me, white-faced but no longer crying. I opened the door to him and said, first thing: “She’s overreacting. I’m fine.”

He asked me a few questions: What was my name? How old was I? Why wasn’t I in school? I told him about being a homeschooler. Where were my parents? At work. Why was I so upset? I was just lost, that’s all, and got kind of freaked out. Was I running away from home? Of course not; I would not use a bicycle to run away from home. Okay, then, should he call my father or mother? No, I did not want to bother them over this non-emergency. Okay, then, how could he of assistance? Would I like directions? Would I like a ride? I told him I would take the ride. He put my bike in the back of his cruiser and drove me towards home. We didn’t talk much. I asked him to drop me off outside of town, because I didn’t want the neighbors to see me with the police and start up the rumor mill. He said okay. He dropped me off about half a mile from my house. I rode my bicycle home, let myself in and went to bed. I don’t think I ever told my parents about it, or anyone, at the time. I had no one to tell.

As far as I know, the cop made no effort to verify any of the information I gave him. He’d didn’t ask to see ID. (At thirteen, of course, I didn’t have any.) He didn’t ask for my exact address. I think he asked for my parents’ names, but not where they worked. I don’t believe he called any of the local schools to find out if they were missing anyone. When he let me out of the car he immediately turned around and headed back where he’d come from, didn’t bother to watch me head the rest of the way home. He didn’t call my house later that night to find out if I was okay. Presumably he just wanted to get me out of his hair and get back to doing whatever real law enforcement duties he had. And I didn’t want to be in his company any longer than I had to, either. I have no doubt that, if I had simply asked for directions and told him I could see myself all the way home, he would have provided them and then left me where I was.

It could have been like this: suppose I had disappeared somehow, never made it home. Then you would have had a situation with a cop who was called to assist a possibly mentally ill girl who was out in the middle of nowhere on a school day, a tiny girl who said she was thirteen but looked younger, and rather than take her to a doctor or try to get hold of her parents, drove her off to another spot also in the middle of nowhere and let her off, without bothering to even try to verify her identity. Negligence! Huge lawsuit! The blogosphere (not that there was much of one back then, but you know what I mean) would have been up in arms.

Or it could have been like this: the cop, either out of genuine concern or just in ass-covering mode, decides to detain me. He takes me to the police station and either makes me wait around in the office or something, or actually takes me to the holding tank at juvy. There’s a big hassle trying to get hold of my parents. After two hours or more, finally one or both of them would have arrived to collect me. (They both work pretty far from home, and in the kind of jobs where you can’t just drop everything and rush out in a minute.) Perhaps while I was waiting they would have had a doctor talk to me and make sure I wasn’t actually suffering from amnesia (thereby having to present a shrink’s bill for my parents to pay). Then I would be supremely pissed off and going on about violating my rights and they ruined my day, and my parent(s) would be supremely pissed off about being inconvenienced and having to come get me, and probably my mom would have done a lot of yelling, and we would have gone home. Then for weeks after that, Mom would have complained to anyone who would listen about the police bothering me and wasting everyone’s time when they should have been out catching criminals, and my siblings would find out and have another reason to make fun of me. On the plus side, perhaps Mom would have gone out and gotten me a GPS or at least a map or something.

All’s well ends well, in this case because the police simply were all “hands off” and decided to leave well enough alone. Much like they did in Mitrice’s situation — but it obviously didn’t end well for her, or for her family, or for the police. You’re kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You just have to hope luck goes your way and the situation turns out okay.

Is woman’s disappearance the police’s fault?

I just read this article about a 24-year-old woman, Mitrice Richardson, who’s been missing from Los Angeles County, California for over two months. She was arrested on minor charges, booked and released. It was the middle of the night by then, and she had no transportation, no money and no way to contact anyone. The police offered to let her spend the night at the jail, but she said she wanted to leave. She didn’t appear to be a danger to herself or others, or mentally incompetent, so they let her go. And she vanished.

The author of this editorial blames the police for Mitrice’s disappearance, claiming they lacked “compassion” and shouldn’t have released the woman when they knew she had no way to go home. (Other sources claim she was “acting crazy” on the night of her disappearance and claimed she was from Mars, suggesting she was having some kind of episode. There have also been accusations of racism; Mitrice is black.) From what I have read about this thus far, I don’t see it that way. The police offered to help her by letting her spend the night in an empty cell. She turned them down. What were they supposed to do then, force her to stay? If they had kept her against her will, they could have faced a lawsuit for false imprisonment. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Of course, Mitrice’s disappearance is tragic. All disappearances are. But I don’t think the cops could have reasonably done more than they did. Thoughts, anyone?

More info on Mitrice:
Her family’s website for her
Los Angeles Sentinel article (which also blames the cops and claims Mitrice was drunk when she released)