MALIBU (AP) — A county coroner’s official said sheriff’s deputies may have violated the law and undermined his investigation in August when they moved the remains of a missing woman.
Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter told the Los Angeles Times that he was “very clear” that the remains of Mitrice Richardson should not be removed when they were discovered in a Malibu canyon, and said he couldn’t recall a case where a police agency moved remains without coroner’s clearance.
When they first arrived at the scene found by state park rangers in the rugged ravine, sheriff’s officials thought only a skull and maybe a few other bones were there.
But leaves were brushed aside, and Richardson’s entire skeleton was revealed, at which point Winter said “I told detectives not to touch it.”
“We’ve never given authorization to pick up entire skeletal remains,” Winter said.
Winter said he was shocked to hear that minutes later the remains were headed back to a sheriff’s station, and said a state code that describes the authority of the coroner in handling dead bodies may have been violated.
Sheriff’s homicide Capt. Dave Smith said poor phone and radio reception kept coroner instructions from reaching investigators at the scene, and because night was falling the bones could have been jeopardized if left in place.
“Our main concern was the animals were going to get to her remains that night,” he said.
He also said that the scent stirred up from his team and the remains made the situation potentially dangerous, and the law allows for deputies to move remains in such situations.
Deputies could not lead coroner’s investigators to the scene the next day, and it was about two weeks before another ravine search turned up more bones.
No cause of death was found after an autopsy. Winter said this likely would have been the case regardless of how the bones were handled, but the investigation could have been more thorough.
He said Richardson’s family, critical of the sheriff’s department’s handling of the case from the beginning, had complained to him that untrained investigators were allowed to
recover the remains.
The family slammed the department for releasing Richardson from custody at the Malibu/Lost Hills substation after midnight in September 2009 after an arrest for failing to pay a restaurant bill, even though her car had been towed and she had no money or
The county’s Office of Independent Review later ruled that deputies followed policy and acted properly.
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