For over a decade, Dr. Ronda Hampton has fought for justice on behalf of those who have no voice.
Hampton, a clinical psychologist from Diamond Bar, began her journey as a Missing Persons and Mental Health advocate immediately after 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson disappeared under suspicious circumstances after being released from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station just shortly after midnight on September 17th, 2009.
According to witnesses, Richardson was experiencing a mental health episode at Geoffrey’s Restaurant in Malibu and when she failed to pay her bill, the staff noticed her behavior and considered pooling their money together to cover her meal. Ultimately, they decided it was in her best interests to contact the local Sheriff’s station for assistance since her personal safety and her mental state was an issue.
Prior to her disappearance, Richardson was studying psychology at Cal State Fullerton and was interning at Dr. Hampton’s private practice. After her disappearance, Hampton who had become close to Richardson, began to speak out publicly against the Sheriff’s Department’s handling of her arrest, her treatment in custody and her release.
Within days of Richardson’s disappearance, Hampton initiated contact with then Sheriff Lee Baca in an effort to seek accountability for those involved with her arrest and release. Hampton openly discussed corruption within in the department in those early meetings with Baca and from the beginning, the former Sheriff was not only receptive to Hampton’s concerns regarding the department’s responsibility in Richardson’s disappearance, he was forthcoming to Hampton with his belief the case was mishandled by his officers and that Richardson was possibly murdered.
Hampton continued to meet with Baca regularly throughout the case up until Baca was indicted for obstruction of justice on August 5th, 2016.
REFORM REBUILD RESTORE
In an effort to continue seeking answers into the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson case and as a private citizen wanting to see positive change in the Sheriff’s department, Hampton reached out to then Sheriff’s candidate Bob Olmstead during the 2014 Sheriff’s race.
Impressed with his platform and plans for the department after lengthy conversations, Hampton committed to donating her time to Olmstead’s campaign. It was during that time she was introduced to Alex Villanueva, who played a leadership role in Olmstead’s campaign. Jim McDonnell ultimately won the 2014 election and it wasn’t until 2017 that Hampton and Villanueva crossed paths again.
After three years of feeling that former Sheriff Jim McDonnell was an ineffective leader and that he pandered to the Board of Supervisors, Hampton was in search of a new candidate to support and requested a meeting with Villanueva who was running for Sheriff in the 2018 bid for Sheriff.
According to Hampton, Villanueva spoke openly during their meeting. He expressed his concerns about the the corruption that existed with the executive staff, the corruption within the department, as well as the rank and file deputies corrupt dealings with the public. His strategy according to Hampton; Quick and Dirty. Go in, expose the department’s dirty dealings, shake things up and pave the way for a new Sheriff to implement major reform. Hence, Villanueva’s “Reform. Rebuild. Restore.” platform, of which Hampton whole-heartedly supported.
To further his point to Hampton about his strategy and as an example of what he believed was a failure on behalf of the department, Villanueva offered his belief that the Richardson case could possibly include criminal activity and approached Hampton for more information about the case.
Throughout Villanueva’s campaign in 2017, specifically in communicating with those whose support he sought, Hampton says Villanueva made it abundantly clear his intentions were to be a one-term Sheriff only.
In fact, during a meeting arranged by Hampton, which included Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter and members of Dignity and Power Now (the same organizations he is publicly criticizing now), Villanueva was questioned by attendees at the meeting about his strategy and why he wanted to be a one-time Sheriff. According to Hampton, Villanueva effectively communicated his strategy and his plan appeared go over well at the meeting.
At the time, Villanueva was at a serious disadvantage with no name recognition running against the incumbent and his campaign was underfunded. Hampton used her media Rolodex from her years of fostering relationships to get exposure for the Richardson case to get Villanueva exposure wherever possible. Additionally, she advised him on debate topics and voter etiquette. Hampton’s involvement was significant in Villanueva’s campaign to the extent they had contact with him nearly everyday.
Grass roots efforts proved to be successful and on December 3rd, 2018, Alex Villanueva became the first candidate in 104 years to beat the incumbent in the history of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Hampton noticed immediately the team was compromised of only Hispanics and pointed out to Villanueva that they could not fairly address diversity and culturally sensitive issues effectively unless the group included members of the department from a more diverse team. Villanueva appeared to be receptive during the conversation; however, it is not clear if this team was ever revamped. Although, he did follow through with a committee comprised of LASD personal and community members to discuss concerns from racially diverse communities. The open dialogue about race and cultural issues continued between Hampton and Villanueva and appeared to result in positive change.
However, the 10-year anniversary of Mitrice Richardson’s disappearance, and the press conference at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department on September 17th, 2019, proved to be a pivotal time in the relationship between Hampton and Sheriff Villanueva. Just 10 days before, on September 7th, 2019, Villanueva attended a private event to celebrate Richardson’s life where he offered significant details as to the next steps in the Richardson case.
“I like to purse the truth and I like to get to the bottom of it”, ” I want to assess the entire case from the beginning with a fresh set of eyes. And that means we’ll go back, we’re gonna canvass, we’re going to walk the entire length of it.”
Ten days later, at a press conference in front of the Lost Hills Station, Villanueva backtracked by stating the case had been fully investigated by outside entities who concluded that there was no wrong doing in the case.
Blindsided by Villanueva’s pivot in the case since his speech only 10 days before, Dr. Hampton communicated her extreme disappointment in Sheriff Villanueva to the family, friends, supporters and media in attendance.
“I acknowledge the policy changes, and appreciate that he came here today,” she said. “But the reports he cited were compiled by a corrupt sheriff’s administration and there’s evidence that now-retired personnel at the Lost Hills station lied.”
Hampton was shocked by Villanueva’s actions at the press conference – a complete opposite stance from what he told family and supporters of Richardson and the media just ten days before at the private event honoring Mitrice’s life and anniversary of the disappearance. Villanueva quickly left the podium and went inside the station after being challenged by the media who were present at the event on the 7th and witnessed his statements “seeking truth in the case”, Hampton was left on her own to field questions from a confused pool of reporters.
Shortly after the press conference, Villanueva summoned Hampton and myself who was supporting Hampton as a friend representing my community. We were ushered to the to the conference room inside the station where Villanueva was seated on one side of a large table surrounded by members of his staff and his security detail.
We were led back to the conference room where Hampton, visibly angry, confronted Villanueva about his complete reversal on the case (and without any previous indication of his change of heart).
The room was extremely tense to the point where his is PR person, obviously disturbed by the encounter and clearly not experienced in this type of situation, asked for “back-up” in addition to the five members of the department surrounding Villanueva, all armed with their duty pistols (in their holsters).
Hampton left the room shortly after without incident and the next day Villanueva assigned a detective to the case despite his earlier claims no-one in his department wanted to be involved.
In spite of the backtracking by Villanueva and his promises to put “fresh eyes” on the case, Dr. Hampton remained optimistic with the information received as a result of the news coverage of the anniversary of Richardson’s disappearance.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE
Hindsight is 20-20 and Hampton has had her eyes wide open since Villanueva took office. Villanueva was the first candidate in more than 100 years of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to unseat an incumbent sheriff and his first move was to reinstate his friend and fellow Latino Carl Mandoyan who was fired from the department for domestic violence. The proverbial warning shot to the political powers that be ignited a very public war with the Board of Supervisors and the Citizens Oversight Commission, and was a good indicator of Villanueva’s battle plan for the next four years.
Hampton believes now more than ever that Villanueva is using his position as Sheriff to exact revenge for how he was treated by the department, which ultimately resulted in a lawsuit against LASD for discrimination.
And ironically, Villanueva is displaying the same behavior as what he sued the Sheriff’s Department for as evidenced in his statements to the L.A. Times and what ultimately brought Hampton to the conclusion, she could no longer support Villanueva for Sheriff in the 2022 election.
Hampton made the following observations about Villanueva’s comments to the media:
“Villanueva felt Black people have it far better today than in the past — and what’s keeping young Black people down is themselves. On what basis does the Sheriff
It is outside of the purview of the role of the Sheriff to provide commentary on the sociological aspects of the Black experience. It is important for a public official to understand that their words carry a great deal of weight in the community, therefore statements should be based on measured facts and not on personal opinions. If Sheriff Villanueva feels that Blacks should be happy because we are not routinely being hung by nooses or that we are allowed to read, write and vote therefor we should not desire equal treatment in all aspects of life, he misses the very significant point that no individual should have to settle for a “good enough” life just because it is a better life than the lives of their ancestors. The fight for equality should continue far as long as any group of people feels discriminated against and we, as a society, should expect nothing less.
“For every one ‘Say her name,’” Villanueva proclaimed, “you’d have to say a thousand names of people who were killed. Black people killing Black people.”
Sheriff Villanueva’s focus on Black-on-Black crime appears to be an attempt to justify police brutality and not only serves to support cops who engage in these heinous acts, but also misrepresents the fact that preponderance of crimes committed upon individuals are done so by same race individuals.
“Now [Asians have] become more prevalent as victims of hate crimes,” he continued. “And look at the one who’s assaulting victims. Overwhelming majority are Black. It’s a rule in media that it cannot be mentioned.”’
Nationally, 73% of Asian hate crimes were committed by Whites despite media misrepresentation of Blacks committing the highest rate of hate related incidence against Asians. In Los Angeles County, a 2020 report by the Los Angeles County Commission on Hate Crime report found that in 2020 11% of hate crimes were targeted against Asians and that 42% of perpetrators were White; 36% were Latinos and 19% were African Americans. In 2019 anti-Asian hate crimes were by Latino’s at a rate of 42%, 32% of perpetrators were White and 26% were Black. In any case, sheriff Villanueva chooses to ignore national and local statistics based on crime reports provided law enforcement agencies.
“The media pays attention to the people screaming the loudest at the street corner. And those are convicted criminals, their families, the people in and out of prison, on parole, on probation, all the advocacy groups that focus on them. And [the media] somehow think that they represent the Latino community.”
The right to protest is a fundamental right that is sometimes the only way in which individuals, particularly marginalized individuals can exact change. The likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Caesar Chavez, Gloria Steinem and Harvey Milk holding up their signs on the street corners and protesting injustice represents the power of freedom of speech and not representative of the degree with which one is engaged in, associated with or advocating for criminal activity.”
Hampton maintains her support of Villanueva was based on his original strategy being a one-term Sheriff. “Get in, expose corruption, rattle cages and get out – which I believe he was successful at.” said Hampton “Now it’s time to go.”