Malibu Surfside News

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Malibu Restaurant Owner Asks Sheriff Baca to Look into His Department’s ‘Misstatements’ on Mitrice Richardson’s Arrest

• Geoffrey Staffers Say that They Receive Hate Calls and Death Threats from the Public

BY ANNE SOBLE


The owner of the Malibu restaurant where the Mitrice Richardson saga began said he was finally able to speak directly with Sheriff Lee Baca this week and voice his concerns about what he thinks is misinformation concerning the role of Geoffrey’s in the Los Angeles woman’s arrest in September of 2009.
Jeff Peterson first indicated he wanted to publicly address statements made by Baca after the August 2010 press conference held by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to announce that partially skeletonized and mummified remains found in the Malibu Canyon backcountry belong to the 24-year-old honors college graduate who had been missing for 11 months. No cause of death has been determined.
The location where the remains were found is less than eight miles from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station where Richardson was transported and booked after a citizen’s arrest for failing to pay an $89.51 dinner tab at Geoffrey’s. Responding deputies, who found some pot in her car after what was described as a consensual search, as well as packages of alcoholic beverages and several empty prescription bottles, ordered the car towed to the Malibu impound yard.
Peterson said the telephone conversation he had with Baca on Tuesday left him “feeling confident that the sheriff will look into his concerns about misinformation and call him back.” Geoffrey’s owner said Baca “seemed very helpful and concerned,” and added that the “sheriff’s word is so powerful that it is critical that he have a true picture of events to present to the public.”
Although there had been some harassment of the restaurant after the Richardson story first broke, Peterson said it became worse after the August press conference. Baca then appeared to shift some of the responsibility for what transpired to the staff of Geoffrey’s restaurant, who had called Lost Hills directly when the 24-year-old Los Angeles resident said she could not pay her bill. Baca described “the irate owner or manager of the restaurant telling us to come and pick her up.”
Peterson said he told Baca that the manager, who is not named in the LASD reports and has requested not to be named in media coverage, was “not irate, but was concerned about Richardson’s safety” and had Lost Hills called because she was speaking gibberish, stated she was from Mars, would become fixated on computer and other bright lights, and exhibited other signs of mental instability.
Richardson family members are circulating a tape of the telephone call made by a Geoffrey’s staffer to Lost Hills, a transcript of which has been posted online.
When the phone rings, a sheriff’s deputy, who family members believe is Deputy Yoav Shalev, answers, “Lost Hills Station.”
The female staffer says, “I’m calling from Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu. We have a guest here who is refusing to pay her bill. We think she may…she sounds really crazy. She may be on drugs or something. We are wondering if you could come by and pick her up.”
The caller to Lost Hills does not appear to be angry as she responds to the deputy’s routine questions for the write-up on which a sheriff’s car will be dispatched.
However, the report from the Office of Independent Review, the panel designated to serve as the watchdog for the LASD that concluded the department acted with due diligence, states that “the [Geoffrey’s] manager demanded” that Richardson be arrested.
But Peterson said his staff—he was not there in person when the incident occurred—wanted the woman assisted because they were concerned that something was wrong. “This was not about punishment, she needed attention.”
Peterson said the restaurant staff’s assumption was that Richardson would be transported to get special medical attention.
According to the report, drafted largely by the then deputy chief attorney of the OIR, Benjamin Jones, the restaurant staff reported their concerns to the three male deputies, who said they then took their action based on the manager declining telephone bill payment without signature verification and having performed a citizen’s arrest.
The OIR document further states that the deputies took Richardson into custody “without conducting any interviews of Geoffrey’s Restaurant customers or employees.”
The Malibu Surfside News has attempted to contact some of the restaurant patrons that evening, but a wall of silence has surrounded people who indicate that they don’t want to get involved because of the time it will require; they don’t want to have to testify in court; or they don’t want their names to become public.
In subsequent interviews, the OIR attorney was able to chronicle Richardson’s bizarre behavior, but if witnesses were not interviewed at the time she was taken into custody, that might help to explain why deputies missed what should have been obvious behavioral cues.
With regard to the woman’s car, Peterson said the restaurant did not insist that the car be towed, but offered to park the car on the street and keep the keys until she was able to come back and pick it up.
The News has learned who the tow truck driver is who took the vehicle to the impound lot, but he has declined to respond to the newspaper’s contacts. Because he might have observed behavior and be able to clarify who wanted what done when, he will likely be deposed when family litigation proceedings get underway.
At the August press conference, Baca indicated that LASD policies on responses to “defrauding an innkeeper” charges would be reviewed by the department. Baca said, “Because a restaurant owner…decides to make a citizen’s arrest, the deputies’ options are to field cite or take the individual to jail.” He added, “The question is [whether] defrauding an innkeeper of $89 is enough of a crime to take someone to jail?”
Members of Richardson’s family have been critical of Lost Hills sheriff’s personnel for taking her to jail for field-citable offenses, not being able to detect her psychological issues—she might have been experiencing a bipolar episode, and after taking her to Lost Hills, for releasing her shortly after midnight in the remote industrial area without her car, cell phone or purse.
Richardson’s parents have filed separate lawsuits against Los Angeles County for negligence and civil rights violations.
They continue their campaign for the involvement of the FBI in the case and demand additional forensic study of her exhumed remains for clues as to how she died.

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