Mitrice Richardson may have been spotted in Las Vegas

Mitrice Richardson, who vanished after being released from an L.A. County sheriff’s station early one September morning last year, may be alive and living in Las Vegas, according to law enforcement officials.

On Thursday, at a news conference in that city, they will make a public plea for her to come forward.

“Please let us know you’re OK,” Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, said of their message to Richardson. “You’re not in trouble. You’ve done nothing wrong. You are not the subject of a criminal investigation. You will not be arrested.”

A friend from Richardson’s teenage years said he saw her in a bar at the Rio on Father’s Day weekend in June, prompting a search by L.A. County sheriff’s investigators. Her father, Michael Richardson, said a Sheriff’s Department official told him that they had information on numerous sightings.

Whitmore wouldn’t give a number, but said, “They wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t believe they had credible information of her whereabouts. They want to prove or disprove beyond a shadow of a doubt that these sightings are indeed fact or indeed not fact.”

So far, authorities have neither located her nor established for sure that it was Richardson who was spotted — and not simply a woman who resembles her.

“Absolutely possible,” Whitmore said of the latter scenario.

Also working on the case, and to be represented at the news conference, he said, are Los Angeles police — the lead investigators in the disappearance for months — and Las Vegas police. “They want to make it definitive,” Whitmore said.

Nothing has been definitive since Richardson —a Cal State Fullerton graduate whose 25th birthday was in April — showed up at Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu last Sept. 16, acting bizarrely and speaking in gibberish. Unable to pay her $89 dinner bill, she was arrested and taken into custody.

Shortly after midnight, she was released from the Lost Hills/Malibu sheriff’s station in Calabasas without her car, which had been impounded, or her cellphone and purse, which were in the car. Several months later, police investigators discovered evidence in her diaries that she was probably suffering from severe bipolar disorder.

The Sheriff’s Department was widely criticized for releasing her — without a mental health examination — into the night near the rugged canyon, with neither car nor phone. Sheriff’s officials have insisted that she acted normally in custody and have said that they offered to let her stay in the station until she could get a ride.

Four searches of Malibu Canyon led nowhere.

Her parents, who have never been a couple, are divided on whether the new sightings are real.

“I strongly believe,” said her father, Michael Richardson, 43. “But I don’t believe she’s in her right state of mind.”

His belief, he said, is bolstered by his own personal sighting — on a trip to Las Vegas in the middle of January. He was with friends from his motorcycle club in a truck pulling onto a downtown street when he saw a young woman in jeans and a baseball cap talking on a cellphone.

“ ‘God, this girl looks like my daughter,’ ” he said he thought to himself. So he jumped out of the truck, which was stuck in traffic. “I’m running over to get to where she is. I’m almost getting hit by cars. She was standing in the middle of two palm trees in a restaurant parking lot. And then she’s gone. I’m like ‘Where was that girl?’ ”

He said police investigators followed up but found nothing.

Then L.A. County Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Rosson called about a month ago to tell him they had a credible sighting in Las Vegas.

Greg Amerson, whom Richardson once took to her winter formal at South Hills High School in West Covina, said he had spotted her at a bar in a Vegas hotel. He later told Lauren Sutton, Richardson’s mother’s sister-in-law, that she was wearing a white dress with white shoes.

“He approached her from behind and called her name and she turned and looked at him and didn’t seem to recognize him,” Sutton said. “Then he said she seemed to recognize him and then she turned and walked off very quickly.”

Amerson took a few days to pass the information on to relatives. Sheriff’s investigators then sought hotel surveillance tapes, but found that they had been taped over. For several days, sheriff’s investigators combed Las Vegas, passing out fliers and talking to strippers, bar managers and prostitutes. In the L.A. area, Richardson had occasionally danced professionally at a lesbian bar.

Michael Richardson said Rosson discussed with him the possibility that she was working as a prostitute. He said he believes that it is possible someone is keeping her from contacting family and friends.

Her mother, Latice Sutton, is more skeptical of the sightings.

“I want her to be found,” she said. “However, I don’t believe that the woman that Greg saw was Mitrice. His sighting is no more credible than other people’s in Los Angeles.”

Latice Sutton said that Amerson had not seen Mitrice in years and that they were never close.

Sutton said she has entertained the possibility that Richardson disappeared by choice.

“But I know my daughter and her principles, and if she is in her right mind, she would not be out there without contact even if it were to say, ‘Mom, I’m OK, but I’m going to stay out there.’ ”