Los Angeles

Sheriff Supervisor Says Public Should Have Been Warned About Shootings Before Malibu Campground Slaying

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has responded.

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department lieutenant says he wanted to warn the public about a series of mysterious shootings around Malibu Creek State Park in the months before a camper was killed, but was told to keep quiet by his superiors.

James Royal, who until January was in charge of detectives at the Sheriff's Lost Hills Station, says he became the target of workplace retaliation after the widow of the dead camper filed a lawsuit that accused the County of failing to warn the public of that very danger.

In a government claim filed last week Royal said he was effectively demoted, was notified he was the subject of an internal affairs investigation, and was transferred to a less desirable assignment further from his home.

"The...retaliatory actions against Claimant [Royal], including specifically the unwarranted transfer, IA investigation, and reputational harm, are designed to intimidate, control, and otherwise damage Claimant as a witness," Royal's claim said. "Because the Department believes that Claimant will testify in a future proceeding regarding his disclosures to supervisors as to the Department's legal duty to warn the public."

The Sheriff's Department responded, saying it is aware of the lawsuit.

"Based on the nature of pending litigation and ongoing investigations, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. We remain committed to our responsibility of ensuring the safety of Los Angeles County residents," the department said.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed earlier this year that an internal affairs investigation had been opened into how deputies and detectives at Lost Hills had handled reports of seemingly random shootings and burglaries that ultimately led to the arrest last October of a transient for the camper's murder and other crimes.

Royal supervised the detective bureau at the station, and the investigation was, at least initially, his responsibility. The transient, Anthony Rauda, is being held in lieu of $10,000,000 bail while he awaits trial. Rauda, 42, was charged in January with murder for the killing of Tristan Beaudette, 35, who was shot to death as he slept in a tent alongside his 2 and 4-year-old daughters at the park on June 22, 2018.

Beaudette's widow Erica Wu named the Sheriff's Department, the California State Park Police, and other state and local agencies as defendants in her legal action in civil court and demanded at least $90-million in compensation for the murder.

The agencies " ... have confirmed they were aware of at least seven unsolved shootings in Malibu Creek State Park," the claim said. "[The agencies] ... negligently failed to care and provide a safe space for Beaudette and his children, instead causing his death."

As to Wu's claim the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said in a statement, "we reserve comment on pending litigation," and the California State Parks department said it, "does not comment on potential or pending claims."

Royal declined to comment through his attorney, who said Royal was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly because he's still a County employee.

"He did everything he could," said Royal's lawyer Matthew McNicholas, but explained Royal could not defy his superiors and give any information about the shootings directly to the public.

McNicholas said he expected Royal would be an important witness in Wu's litigation. According to a timeline in Royal's claim there had been 3 shootings in the park by January, 2017 and Royal asked for permission to notify the public, but he said Sheriff's supervisors refused and told him it was a "State Park's problem" and not theirs.

Four more shootings followed and Royal said he asked the Lost Hills Station captain, a division chief, and a commander for permission to make a public statement, and again, "the request was denied," the claim said.

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