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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Similarities to Mitrice Richardson Case Noted in Woman’s Release from Lost Hills on the Day of Latest Search

• Richardson’s Mother Files Complaint and Says the Sheriff’s Station Must Change Its Practices

BY ANNE SOBLE


Annette Coffey is soft-spoken during a telephone call from the Santa Barbara area on Monday. She told the Malibu Surfside News that she is “still in shock,” and she doesn’t remember everything that happened during her “horrifying experience” at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, where she said she “was treated badly, [her] questions were ignored, and [she] was given no help with out-of-order telephones.”
On Sunday morning, Coffey was in an automobile accident in the area, and she said, “Because of a registration technicality,” her car was impounded and taken to a tow yard in the West Valley.
She said the responding deputies took her into custody, and transported her to Lost Hills where she was booked on allegations of driving under the influence, but said she was not given a sobriety test; possession of drug paraphernalia, but said she doesn’t know what they are referring to; and possession of hypodermic needles that she asserts are clearly labeled for “medical purposes and not to be used as evidence” of illegal drug use.
Coffey said the needles were used for subcutaneous injections of medication when she was undergoing chemotherapy for liver cancer and hepatitis C late last year.
She said she had never heard of Mitrice Richardson, so didn’t know that she was being told to do what Richardson was reportedly told to do, leave her purse with several hundred dollars, credit cards and her cell phone locked inside the vehicle before it was towed.
At Lost Hills, Coffey said she was kept in an area “that was freezing,” and given a telephone that would only “beep,” which may be similar to what appears to be the case on a Richardson videotape. She was then released out of the same side door as Richardson.
But there are also major differences. Coffey was released in the mid-afternoon. Her ethnicity is what society persists in labeling as “white.” She is 43, and, in her self-description, said that she didn’t look very good that day.
Coffey said she walked out into the Lost Hills parking lot. She had not eaten all day and was beginning to feel unsteady, which she attributed to chemotherapy having altered her metabolism. She said it took all of her energy to even cry.
She was standing there crying, when three women walked over to her and asked if they could help.
The women were at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station because it was the base for operations related to efforts associated with the case of another release from the same location.
They were Mitrice Richardson’s mother, Latice Sutton; her aunt, Lauren Sutton; and clinical psychologist and family friend Ronda Hampton—three people who had familiarity with the station’s release policies.
Coffey said the trio offered to help, got her some coffee and then went into the station as a group to work out a way for the apparently addled woman to get her purse.
Sutton said when the four of them walked into the station; the deputy at the front desk treated them “rudely.” He then called a female law enforcement technician from the back, who Sutton and Hampton said was even ruder. Hampton said the LET “rolled her eyes” as she listened with an “uninterested, if not disdainful, expression.”
Sutton said, “Their behavior reminded me of how I was treated when I filed the missing person report after Mitrice was released.”
After making arrangements to drive Coffey to the tow yard, where the women said they encountered additional unpleasant behavior from the person on duty until they threatened to report him to Lost Hills. He then got her purse from the car and inventoried its contents.
The trio then helped Coffey to arrange transportation to Santa Barbara County. Sutton said they resolved to file a complaint as soon as they could send an email to Sheriff Lee Baca’s chief of staff, Commander James Lopez.
When the Malibu Surfside News contacted the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department media liaison Steve Whitmore, he confirmed, “Yes, they have a filed a complaint with Commander Lopez, and it is being investigated. In fact, the station and the OIR have already begun looking at the pertinent information.”
When The News contacted the office of the Lost Hills commander to request basic information about Coffey and try to verify her statements, as well as obtain the names of the personnel on duty so they could be interviewed, Lt. Steve Smith, in charge of operations, emailed back: “Based on the allegations made regarding the release of Ms. Coffey, an inquiry is currently being conducted. For this reason, your requested information regarding the involved employees will not be permitted to be released to you.”
In her own email to Whitmore, Sutton wrote; “It should never be an option to make a woman leave her purse, containing her cell phone, money, credit cards, and identification, in the vehicle while being detained, and then release her with no way to care for herself, especially when she lives more than 30 miles away. This pattern of practice must be changed. It is negligent and more people will be harmed, even killed, if this practice continues.”
Coffey becomes choked up as she expresses her appreciation to the three women. She said, “I was supposed to start walking, but I didn’t even know in what direction to go.” She said the three women “were there for me like angels.”
The News has received and is researching the details of two other cases where women have said they were released from Lost Hills alone, on foot and without their purses. Because they either had no means to contact people to help them, or no one could be reached, these women reportedly had to walk long distances to get back to their homes.
If any or all of these stories prove to be accurate, they may be an indication that Lost Hills has not made any attempt to address the minimal wrist-slaps it received from the county Office of Independent Review last year.

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