Summer of fear

Officials address community concern about recent mountain crimes


EMERGENCY SESSION— Lt. James Royal of the Lost Hills Sheriff Station joins a panel of law enforcement officials and government leaders at an Aug. 19 discussion about action being taken to keep the Santa Monica Mountains safe following a recent uptick in crime. JOSEPH A. GARCIA/Acorn Newspapers

EMERGENCY SESSION— Lt. James Royal of the Lost Hills Sheriff Station joins a panel of law enforcement officials and government leaders at an Aug. 19 discussion about action being taken to keep the Santa Monica Mountains safe following a recent uptick in crime. JOSEPH A. GARCIA/Acorn Newspapers

State Sen. Henry Stern (D-Calabasas) hosted an Aug. 19 meeting at King Gillette Ranch near Calabasas in hopes of easing community fears about the reports of gunfire and a recent killing in Malibu Canyon.

Residents have been growing uneasy since the June 22 incident in which Irvine resident Tristan Beaudette was shot and killed while camping at Malibu Creek State Park just south of Calabasas. Investigators have released no information about a motive or suspect.

There have also been reports of other gunfire in the area, and two dead bodies were found along canyon roads, one in May and one in July. Police believe the bodies were dumped there by a Los Angeles street gang.

Stern called the meeting to announce the formation of an interagency task force made up of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, all of which were represented at the meeting.

TAKING ACTION—Sen. Stern is calling for a new interagency task force to deal with the crimes. “We need to take our land back,” he said. JOSEPH A. GARCIA/Acorn Newspapers

TAKING ACTION—Sen. Stern is calling for a new interagency task force to deal with the crimes. “We need to take our land back,” he said. JOSEPH A. GARCIA/Acorn Newspapers

“We need to take our land back, and we can’t cede these mountains to any kind of violence or fear, and I truly believe that the interagency task force and the community-facing nature of this exercise is going to be the critical infrastructure that actually lets us retake this land,” Stern said.

“We don’t want to be known in this region for these kinds of incidents. We don’t want to be defined by this, and we certainly don’t want to live in fear. Today is about trying to knit some infrastructure together at a civic level that we can truly lean on, to be durable for years to come.”

Stern moderated the meeting, gathering questions from community members regarding the shootings, Beaudette’s killing and the dumped bodies.

Lt. Rodney Moore of the LASD homicide bureau said detectives believe Beaudette’s death is not related to the two bodies dumped in Malibu Canyon, which they suspect are gang-related. Because of the continuing investigation into Beaudette’s homicide, Moore could not comment except to say there are no suspects or theories.

STILL CLOSED—The campground is tentatively set to reopen Oct. 8. Acornfile photo

STILL CLOSED—The campground is tentatively set to reopen Oct. 8. Acorn file photo

Lt. James Royal of the Malibu/ Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station said there were eight previous incidents of gunfire in the past two years. The first occurred Nov. 3, 2016, when a man was hit in the arm with birdshot. Several other incidents involved cars being shot while driving on Malibu Canyon Road.

Since Beaudette’s death on June 22, there have been nine additional reports of gunfire, though Royal said those are unconfirmed.

“I want to make a very important distinction on this matter. These are exactly what I’m referring to them as, they are reports of shots fired only; they are not necessarily related. However, they may be,” Royal said. “In at least two of the cases, one was determined to be a (car) backfire and the other was determined to be a transformer that exploded.”

Royal said another incident, in which a car’s rear windshield exploded, was later determined to have been caused by heat stressing the glass of the older-model vehicle, and not gunfire.

Royal also said there’s no evidence that Beaudette’s killing is related to the death of Mitrice Richardson or the disappearance of Elaine Park.

Richardson’s remains were found in the Santa Monica Mountains in August 2010. She had been missing for 11 months after she was arrested and released by deputies from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.

Park has been missing since Jan. 28, 2017 after leaving her boyfriend’s home in Calabasas. Her car was found in Malibu five days later, but there have been no developments in the case since then.

Craig Sap, superintendent of the California State Parks Angeles District, said the continued closure of the Malibu Creek State Park campground is not permanent or even unusual.

“Sometimes we do closures, not necessarily just for these types of things. It could be a storm issue, a fire-driven issue. . . . There are certain things that are beyond our control,” Sap said.

“Right now, tentatively, we’re looking at (reopening the campground) on Oct. 8. There’s a closure through then, but we’ll reevaluate it at that point.”

Tony Hoffman, public safety superintendent of the California State Parks Angeles District, said people should feel safe visiting Malibu Creek State Park, which remains open to the public. The area is patrolled by park rangers as well as trained volunteers.

Stern concluded the meeting by thanking residents for coming out and pledging to investigate funding opportunities for the task force in the hopes of preventing similar issues in the future.

“Money doesn’t necessarily solve this crime, but money matters, and our region gets overlooked sometimes in the bigger budget fights. It’s ‘why should we pay special attention to (your region)? Things seem good,’” Stern said. “(We) know that that’s not an okay answer. This is not a privileged form of law enforcement for this community, but it’s a service to the entire state of California.

“We have to do better. . . . We can’t sleep on these issues out here,” the senator said.