Communication breakdown mars handling of missing woman Mitrice Richardson's remains

File: A copy of People Magazine containing a story about missing Los Angeles girl Mitrice Richardson in L.A. on March 16, 2010.
File: A copy of People Magazine containing a story about missing Los Angeles girl Mitrice Richardson in L.A. on March 16, 2010.

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Authorities involved in handling the remains of a California woman failed to properly communicate with one another,according to a report released Wednesday by the L.A. County Office of Independent Review.

Back in 2009, deputies arrested Mitrice Richardson in Malibu for not paying her restaurant bill. They released her from the Malibu-Lost Hills station a little after midnight and she left alone — with no money, no phone and no way to get home.

Almost a year later, park rangers found a few bones in a Malibu Canyon ravine. And after deputies began to remove them, they then discovered the rest of what was once Richardson.

And that’s where communication with the coroner faltered.

“There became a communications breakdown with regard to whether or nor there was actual authorization to remove the whole skeleton," explained attorney Michael Gennaco with the L.A. County Office of Independent Review.

At the time, a coroner's rep criticized sheriff's deputies for moving Richardson’s body before forensics experts could get to the scene. But the OIR investigation found the coroner's office had given permission for sheriff's deputies to remove some of the remains before authorities had found a full skeleton.

Both departments have played a game of "he-said, she-said" ever since. Sheriff's officials have said that they called back the coroner's office to obtain permission to remove the whole skeleton; the coroner's office says they never got a second call.

That disagreement continues to this day, Gennaco said.

"The chain of command [...] there just seemed to be a real breakdown in communication with regard to assessing what to do in a very sort of complex, unique circumstance."

The OIR maintains there was no coverup, though it recommends that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department train its field units on how to properly communicate to the coroner at a scene where there's a body.

Richardson's parents have since filed separate wrongful death lawsuits that were later consolidated. They contended deputies should not have released their daughter into the night, given her mental state.

The young woman may have been manic at the time of her arrest. A diary recovered from her car, which had been seized because deputies found some marijuana in it, suggested that she may have gone without sleep for as many as five days before her arrest.

In July, Richardson's parents exhumed her body and hired a private pathologist to investigate.

Her cause of death was never established.

This story has been updated.