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Mother of missing woman sues L.A. authorities for wrongful death

By the CNN Wire Staff
Mitrice Richardson, a 24-year-old former beauty pageant contestant, has been missing since Sept. 17.
Mitrice Richardson, a 24-year-old former beauty pageant contestant, has been missing since Sept. 17.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mitrice Richardson disappeared September 17 after release from sheriff's station
  • She was arrested hours earlier for refusing to pay restaurant tab
  • Family says she suffered from mental health issues
  • Mother says sheriff's officials negligent for releasing daughter in her mental state
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(CNN) -- The mother of a missing California woman is suing the county of Los Angeles and several sheriff's officials for wrongful death and negligence in her daughter's 2009 disappearance, court documents say.

Mitrice Richardson, a 24-year-old former beauty pageant contestant, was last seen leaving a Malibu, California, sheriff's station in the early morning hours of September 17. Richardson had been arrested hours earlier after employees at Geoffrey's, an upscale Malibu restaurant, told police she refused to pay her $89 bill.

At the restaurant, witnesses said Richardson was exhibiting strange behavior including "sitting down with strangers and speaking in gibberish," according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Richardson's mother, Latice Sutton. A court has declared Richardson dead, although no body has been found.

Jeff Peterson, the owner of the restaurant, told CNN in September that he called police because he feared for her safety.

"It was not just the money," Peterson said. "Something was wrong with her. And it wasn't the alcohol, and we didn't know what to do and we didn't want to put her in a vehicle."

Her family has said the college honors graduate suffered from mental health issues.

"It was clearly evident that from the time [Richardson] arrived at Geoffrey's to the time of her arrest, she was not in her correct mental state," the lawsuit says.

According to the documents, video footage from inside the sheriff's station shows Richardson "clutching the screen of the holding pen and rocking from side to side" and "pulling at her hair and trying to get into the fetal position face down on a concrete bench."

Sutton alleges that she made numerous calls to the sheriff's station that night to find out when her daughter would be released so Sutton could pick her up. However, she never received notice of the release, the lawsuit says.

Sutton argues in the lawsuit that the sheriff's department failure to administer psychiatric or medical evaluations and the fact that Richardson was released "alone in an unfamiliar area without money, a cellular phone or means of transportation amounts to negligence."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Sutton told HLN's "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell" Wednesday night that her purpose for filing the suit "is to be able to obtain more information about what really happened to Mitrice on that night," saying authorities have not been forthcoming with information because of the possibility of a lawsuit.

"I feel I have no other alternative," Sutton said. "The sheriff's department has forced me to take this action."

A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department told "Issues" that "all indications that night were that Mitrice was doing OK. She took sobriety tests, signed documents, talked to the jailer. She was not in mental distress when we were with her."

CNN's Sarah Aarthun and Gabriel Falcon contributed to this report.

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