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.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (24)
  1. BIG MOUTH says:


  2. Mike says:

    I have great respect for law enforcement but something doesn’t seem right with this case and the sheriff’s department handling of it. If the L.A. County Coroner is willing to make a bold statement against the sheriff’s department, something is drastically wrong here.

    Usually, one county office will back another county office, but not here. Makes you wonder.

  3. Moonbeam says:

    How could animals destroy the remains when police would presumably be present pending the arrival of the coroner? That makes no sense to me.

  4. Gidion Phillips says:

    After all the controversy regarding Mitrice’s death, one would think the sheriff’s dept. would have been extra careful regarding her remains and autopsy -that is if they didn’t have something to hide. Will there ever be justice for Mitrice? Will there ever be an honest investigation or will the cover-up just continue?

  5. Greg says:

    The Sheriffs had something to do with her disappearance and took the body away from its found location to hide any evidence that might have been left there. This department has been acting shady from day one. Time for an internal investigation.

  6. Warmfire says:

    I respect law enforcement as well, which is why I am bafffled by their handling of this case. They thought animals might get to her skeleton? Her body had been out there eight months! The animals have already had free reign. What’s another hour or two to wait for the coroner to get there in police presence as an earlier commenter pointed out? The more I read about this case, the more I wonder what was really going on here.

  7. letitiasprings says:

    also there way to many red flags in this case, and when there are so many red flags in any case….it’s clear that the sheriff office is covering for the person on staff or persons who did this heriffic crime to this girl, who had a bright future…. I remember when mitrice mother was on the news and spoke of an investigation on the malibu sheriff station,then some one lied and said her classmate saw her in vegas, I knew that was a way for the sheriif station to cover their tracks, trying to throw people off on them when turns out mitrice had been dead for a year, I really pray that the culprits are broght to justice in this life time….in JESUS name…

  8. letitiasprings says:

    just remember to all of the rapist. Murderers, and all of the people that are doing awful things and getting away with it… Only for a time. God knows every SECRET THING…. And you will be held ACCOUNTABLE…..WOE BE UNTO YOU!!!

  9. kenmandu says:

    Every aspect of this case underscores how inept and callous the LA police can be. I was in the area when this happened and friends of mine who ride horses volunteered for the initial search. Would these dummies let a white girl, who seems Unstable, has no phone, and whose car they impounded, wander off into the wilds of Malibu Canyon at night – NO WAY! Since they won;t do time for their crime, I hope the city gets sued for megabucks and their careers are permanently stained by their stupid and callous, racially motivated actions. By the way, I’m white, but believe in what is right!

  10. get it right says:

    The Coroner’s Office is the last agency that should be critical of any law enforcement agency. There are plenty of skeletons in their closet. If the public only knew how disorganized, inept and lack of any type of case integrity within that office. There job is to determine cause of death,, which without the help of detectives they would defer the majority of their cases .The homicide detectives are the experts. I am shocked that Winter would dare to say anything—Clean your own house first!!!

  11. hesperias_witch says:

    At every turn in this case more questions seem to arise then answers. There will ba a weak limk in the chain, and the will break and then and only then we will have the truth about what happened to Mitrice. Something is not right and all fingers are pointing to the Sheriffs Dept.

  12. linda glascow says:

    what were they afraid of,lions and tigers,were they trying to cover up something.Lets see if Baca steps up to the plate,he needs to remove the commander of the station and all personnel involved in the removal of the remainds.What were they thinking Shame Shame on them.

  13. American 1776 says:

    This case has smelled from the begining. The remains laid there for ove 13 months when it was very inviting to the wild life. Now nothing but bones the animals can’t resist it, RIGHT. Something smells here and it’s not the remains attracting the animals.

  14. Mike says:

    “Will Matrice ever get justice” you people crack me up. It was her choice to leave the lobby of Sheriff’s, and it was her mother choice to refuse to pick her up. What happened here is tragic, but it’s the fault of Matrice and her family, nobody else. WAKE UP PEOPLE!…THEY WANT MONEY!

  15. Nikki says:

    @Mike, Money, huh???? Why does it always have to be money that someone wants in a situation like this instead of justice for their dead child? Yes, Mitrice was someone’s child and she may not have been in her right mind when leaving that police station, but I know from working with police that being that her car was towed, she had no money or phone, they should have allowed her to call someone to pick her up. They had a reasonable duty to keep her from harms way, knowing that they brought her in there and she was acting funny. No, something is not right with this case and has not been from the start. It seems VERY strange that they would let her leave that night, as well as the way they are handling the recovery of her remains. They are either trying to cover up something or destroy evidence that links one of their own to some wrong doing. She was a beautiful girl and something could of happened to her at the hands of a law official. I think the parent’s and family should sue, if not for money than for teaching the police department that they must learn to handle issues like this more delicately. Shame on them for the way they have dishonored her.

  16. C.G. says:

    The coroner’s office is trying to deflect attention from their own deficits. They should have been on scene if they wanted to supervise.

  17. Mike says:


    That’s right, they want MONEY! they wanted nothing to do with picking her up that night. Her mother was called, and she refused to come and pick up her daughter. So, let’s gives her parents millions of tax payer dollars for their own mistake. You people ar MORONS!

  18. James says:

    Not surprised by the behavior of the sheriffs. From my experience working with several law enforcement agencies over the years, sheriffs and local cops have serious issues regarding behavior/professionalism. The only law enforcement agency that I respect is the CHP. Too many times I have seen the local sheriffs/cops abuse their powers or behave as if they are ABOVE THE LAW. Of course, when they speed, drive unsafe, and use their cell phones while driving is justified because we (the public) always assume they must be on an emergency call?! There should be better training for these cops.

  19. Mike says:

    James, get off of your soap box, you sound like a little 5 year old girl. The police need to do this, the police need to do that. Until you’re sitting in the police car with them, don’t assume that you know what your talking about in regards to the things they do.

  20. letitiasprings says:

    why hasn’t anyone viewed the camera’s at the sheriff’s station the morning they claim the released mitrice. That’s a no brainer…it will prove the time she was released also show who she was talking to at that time, the officer on staff at the time turns out left the morning she was released, he may have told her I will take you to your car etc… That tape could really help. When mitrice mother asked specific questions they ovoided this woman, why???? iagain if lost hills, sheriff’s have nothing to hide….looks like a cover up to me…..I pray truth prevail soon….and the CULPRITS are brought to justice soo. Rest in peace Mitrice..

  21. John C says:

    Just an overall ball’s up from day one! Release a woman with no car, phone or money and no viable mean’s of transportation REEK’S of cover-up. I agree with an earlier commenter that IF this had a white girl they would have made absolutely certain to ensure her safety, to be more succinct would they have even let a guy leave there after midnight with NOTHING, regardless of race!?? Just saying…

  22. JoAnne says:

    Many Of You are just a bunch if cop haters

  23. John C says:

    Not true…have you ever been arrested!?? If so, what’s your race, and if you had this happen to you what were the condition’s of your release(time as well)…? Do you not truly see ALL of the implication’s of this particular incident?By the I am a Black man! Go figure…just saying…

  24. kay says:

    The sherrifs dept has really shown there true colors on this matter,truly they have a lot to hide but only for so long!!!! there actions have been suspicious from the start!!! they are the racist murderers who killed Mitrice and they need to be held acc.ountable!!!

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