Hundreds search state park for missing Malibu woman

Mitrice Richardson, 24, went missing after she was released from the Malibu police station on Thursday September 17, 2009.
Mitrice Richardson, 24, went missing after she was released from the Malibu police station on Thursday September 17, 2009.

More than 300 volunteers combed Malibu Creek State Park today, searching for the remains of a missing 24-year-old woman who may have died in the rugged canyon after being released in the middle of the night from an isolated sheriff's station Sept. 24, a sheriff's spokesperson said.

"It's winding down,'' said sheriff's spokesperson Steve Whitmore late in the afternoon. "So far there's nothing new to report.

"This is one of the largest searches the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has done,'' Whitmore said from the command post. "We've have about 300 to 340 people here today, from Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino and Orange counties.

Whitmore said part of the search effort, which began about 7 a.m., included 60 people on horseback, helicopter crews, a dog patrol and climbers scaling down steep canyon walls at Rindge Dam.

Whitmore said there will be no search Sunday.

Mitrice Richardson, a Cal State Fullerton graduate, vanished after walking out of the sheriff's station about 1 a.m. on Sept. 24 following her release after being arrested for allegedly not paying her bill at a Malibu restaurant.

Although that was the last concrete sighting of the woman, a person six miles down Malibu Canyon reported a person trying to sleep in her carport six hours after her release. That sighting was near Piuma Road, about halfway between the sheriff's station and the coast.

But Malibu Canyon is a wild, treacherous and deep chasm with loose rocks, numerous cliffs, thick brush and no passable route other than a serpentine road that hugs the canyon's side.

Richardson's family has criticized the sheriff's department for releasing her before they could arrive to drive her home. They claim Richardson appeared to be mentally unbalanced at the restaurant in Malibu, and accuse
deputies of willingly placing her at grave risk by failing to recognize her unbalanced state, and the nearby dangers.

The sheriff's department has denied any wrong-doing, and said Richardson was offered a bunk overnight at the station. Whitmore said deputies allowed her to leave because she is an adult who did not appear to be intoxicated or mentally ill when she was released.

In December, Sheriff Lee Baca ordered a homicide investigation into her disappearance, and a reward of $10,000 has been offered by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for information in the case. The City of Malibu has added a $15,000 reward as well.