Did Sheriff’s Department Withhold Key Information About the Malibu Creek Shooter?

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lt. James Royal (center) during an August 2018 town hall about shootings in Malibu Creek State Park

June 2019 marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of Tristan Beaudette in a popular campground on the edge of Malibu.

Beaudette, a 35-year-old father of two young girls, was camping with them at Malibu Creek State Park last June when he was shot and killed in his tent, an event that sent shockwaves through the community.

In October of that year, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials charged 42-year-old Anthony Rauda with the murder—Rauda, it turned out, had been living “off the grid” in the park, committing crimes as far back as November 2016. Alongside the murder charge, Rauda was charged with 10 counts of attempted murder and five counts of second-degree burglary.

Now, former LASD Malibu Liaison Lt. James “Jim” Royal—who was unceremoniously removed from his position and transferred to another station in January 2019—has filed a claim against the department alleging his supervisors at the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station and higher up in the department refused to issue warnings to the public about multiple shootings in the area, claiming it was a “State Park’s problem,” according to the documents released Friday. According to Royal’s claim, four more known shootings occurred in the area after he urged the department to share information with the public and before the eventual murder of Beaudette.

The government claim was filed on Friday, June 7, naming Los Angeles County, the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Division Chief John Benedict and 100 “does” as respondents and Royal, represented by attorney Matthew McNicholas, as claimant.

At the time of Royal’s departure from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, little was said about why the leadership change was being made. At the official announcement during the Monday, Jan. 28, Malibu City Council meeting, Sgt. Jim Braden spoke to praise the outgoing liaison.

“We’re sad that Jim Royal’s not here,” Braden said, addressing council. “I worked with Jim Royal for many years.”

According to the government claim, Royal was ousted from his position as Malibu liaison in “retribution” for his repeated requests to bring the information forward, after Beaudette’s family sued the LASD and other state agencies for $90 million, claiming officials put Beaudette in danger by not making their knowledge of the shootings public. 

Of note in Royal’s claim was his appearance at the August 2018 town hall meeting called by State Senator Henry Stern, wherein he was obligated to speak on behalf of the sheriff’s department as to why the public was not informed of potential danger in the park.

“Despite the high profile and sensitive nature of the event, and the significant concern in the community, the department did not select a captain, commander, chief or even the sheriff to represent the department at the town hall,” the claim states. “Instead, claimant [Royal] was instructed to attend the town hall and speak on behalf of the sheriff’s department, and to communicate the department’s official position that the prior series of shootings were unrelated to the Beadette murder (this, of course, was not claimant’s position—but claimant was told that ‘his position’ was not an issue, just the ‘department’s position’ mattered.)”

According to the complaint, Sheriff’s Chief Benedict (named as a respondent) sat in plain clothes in the audience at the town hall in order to “intimidate” Royal in an effort to make him “stay on script.”

In January 2019, Royal alleged, respondents began to retaliate against him, including his transfer away from Malibu to the Santa Clarita station, increasing his daily commute from 20 to 100 miles. This, the claim stated, is referred to as “freeway therapy.” He also had his detective status removed and was deprived of overtime opportunities. 

Royal also claims an internal affairs investigation has been opened against him within the department.

“Claimant disclosed what he reasonably believed to be an unlawful and unsafe failure to warn the public regarding the series of shootings,” the claim states. “[Royal] reasonably believed that a failure to disclose the shootings and issue a public safety warning would lead to a violation of law (which is has). Further, the Beaudette [family’s lawsuit] that were filed indeed allege violation of law arising from the department’s failure to warn, which is exactly what [Royal] repeatedly requested.”

The claim lists damages to Royal—“anxiety, anguish, mental suffering” as well as “damage to his professional reputation”—in excess of $25,000.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had no official response to the claim as of Tuesday, June 11, when The Malibu Times went to print.