The LA County Sheriff’s Department announced last week that Salvador “Chuck” Becerra, acting captain of the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, was being promoted to the permanent captain’s spot. His mother, LA County Sheriff’s Department Retired Captain Irma Becerra (who was last captain at Pico Rivera Station and the Mira Loma custody facility), pinned her son using her own captain bars.
In a letter obtained by The Malibu Times dated June 2, Sheriff Alex Villanueva wrote LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to inform her that he was promoting Becerra to captain of the station, calling it an “emergency appointment.” Two other lieutenants stationed elsewhere were promoted to captain at the same time in the same way. The standard process would have been for contract cities (including Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village) to participate in interviewing and selecting a candidate for a new captain.
The letter stated that because of protests against police brutality and looting going on last week, Villanueva wanted to “avoid the undermining and discontinuity of leadership” already in place and thereby justified this “bypass the protocol of recently established captain interviews.”
He praised Becerra and the other two promoted lieutenants for “successfully leading their commands through the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing successful strategies to minimize the spread of the virus to their personnel, and now leading their commands through one of the largest protest movements since the Los Angeles Riots in 1992.”
The captain of the Malibu/Lost Hills Station is effectively the police chief for five cities, including Malibu. The group of municipalities collaborates on common issues through the Las Virgenes Council of Governments (commonly called “the COG”) and pay a combined $25 million per year for LA County law enforcement services.
Not everyone was as thrilled as Becerra’s mother about the promotion. He made news June 2 during local Black Lives Matter demonstrations by posting a statement on social media threatening to bring in “a strike-force team and/or the National Guard” if community or officer safety was compromised. He did not mention protecting the rights of peaceful protesters.
“My mission is clear: No Violence, No Looting and No Vandalism. Period. This station stands ready to protect the community we serve,” Becerra wrote.
Villanueva has seemingly been playing musical chairs with the captain position since he assumed office on Dec. 3, 2018.
Jennifer Seetoo, a 22-year veteran of the department who was well-liked by the community, was acting captain when Villanueva was elected. He soon replaced her with Becerra—despite Seetoo handling the job well through the Borderline shooting and Woolsey Fire. She later filed a formal complaint about her treatment.
In August 2019, Becerra was replaced by Matthew Vander Horck after COG officials interviewed 10 candidates and selected Vander Horck. Becerra did not fare well in the selection process and placed 10th out of 10, according to a KBUU report. In February 2020, Villanueva reassigned and temporarily demoted Vander Horck and then brought Becerra back in. None of the COG was consulted about the change in command.
On Feb. 24, COG city managers and city council members met with Villanueva, expressing frustration over the turnover and lack of communication. They felt they deserved some warning before Vander Horck’s removal.
“We stressed to the sheriff and his staff that, in addition to the high level of law enforcement that we were accustomed to receiving from the LA County Sheriff, clear and constant communication in advance of any command changes occurring at Lost Hills was absolutely necessary going forward,” Mayor Kelly Honig of Westlake Village told the Acorn newspaper at the time.
Three days later, KBUU reported, Villanueva disinvited the city managers from the selection panel—the five cities could each send three people to sit on the panel, but no city managers.
In the end, Villanueva didn’t appear to consult anyone on Becerra’s appointment—he simply declared it an “emergency appointment” in the midst of COVID-19 and social unrest.
When reached for comment, Feldman told The Malibu Times that she was, “Contacted by Chief Dennis Kneer, who informed me that Chuck Becerra had been promoted to captain.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Becerra's nickname.