Son of Pepperdine President Taken into Custody on Campus
Charged with Making Threats against His Parents and Theft of Handgun
BY ANNE SOBLE
"Last Week's Alleged Incidents Occurred on the Date Christopher Benton Was Scheduled to Appear in Malibu Court on Previously Filed Misdemeanor Charges of Being Under the Influence and Driving without a License. The Current Felony Complaint Lists Five Counts. The Complaint Cites Three Prior Felony Convictions for the 27-Year-Old that Occurred between 2003 to 2009, Including Possession of Controlled Substances, Possession of Marijuana for Sale and Grand Theft. Benton Is Being Held in Men's Central Jail with Bail Set at $195,000."
Swirling in a vortex of rapidly changing information and misinformation, a picture is emerging of two days on the Pepperdine University campus that had the potential for tragedy of major proportions and yet neither those on campus or in the community at large were apprised of any danger.
According to court documents, during the time period from Wednesday, Aug. 22, to Thursday, Aug. 23, Christopher Benton, the son of university president Andrew Benton, allegedly threatened his father and mother Deborah Benton at Brock House, the family campus residence, with commission of a "crime that would result in death and great bodily harm," which led them to "fear for his/her safety and the safety of his/her immediate family."
At the same time, the senior Bentons alleged that their son committed grand theft of a firearm that was their personal property, yet this possession of a handgun by someone in a stressed emotional state apparently did not raise enough of a red flag to warrant a public campus alert or notice to the Malibu community at large.
The Bentons contacted the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Lost Hills deputies ostensibly searched for the younger Benton unsuccessfully. Christopher Benton was not apprehended until Thursday when he was spotted on campus, allegedly with the gun in his possession—he attempted to discard it—and ammunition was found in his car, although there are even questions of how he could have been driving because of license suspension issues.
Reports of armed individuals in public settings, such as schools, often result in lockdowns and other precautions, but it is not clear what procedures were implemented for public safety after the Bentons filed their report.
Malibu Surfside News inquiries to the Pepperdine administration and the LASD about the exact time frames and the extent of public safety decision-making and by whom have not yet received responses.
Christopher Benton, 27, has three felony convictions for illegal substance use/sale and related charges dating from 2003 to 2009, which compound the gravity of the current charges he will face.
Benton was scheduled to appear in Malibu Municipal Court on the Wednesday of the alleged family altercation on a double misdemeanor case dating back to October 2011 for being under the influence and driving without a valid license, but he did not show up.
Although that might have been perfunctory to issuance of a bench warrant, Judge Larry Mira reportedly recused himself on the matter and no action was taken.
Those two charges now pale beside the five-count complaint filed in Van Nuys Municipal Court on Tuesday related to Benton's alleged actions on campus last week. The counts include each parent's count for "threatened crime [that is] so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific as to convey a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution."
Of equal seriousness is the count of grand theft firearm of the handgun that is the personal property of the senior Bentons, as well as a separate count of possession of said firearm by a narcotic addict/convicted felon and possession of ammunition and reloaded ammunition for the firearm.
On Tuesday, Andrew Benton issued a bulletin to the Pepperdine community:
"For about 14 years, Debby and I have dealt with issues emerging from the presence of drugs in the life of our son, Chris, and those with whom he has chosen to associate. For the most part, this issue has been kept private, as we have tried a number of treatment methods. We have not given up, but we have not been successful.
There have been glimpses of improvement and reasons for hope, followed by steep falls and what we can only describe as chaos within our family. Last Thursday, after our decision to engage law enforcement, our private, family situation became very public. In the midst of the joy of the opening of a new school year, members of our campus community witnessed the arrest of our son.
Chris will not be returning to campus for some time, probably a long time. That status will not change until the University Threat Assessment Team concludes that it is appropriate for him to do so. All parties—the Court, the District Attorney, University leaders tasked with assuring campus safety, as well as his mother and I—agree with this decision. It is not an easy thing to do, but it is appropriate.
Again, you have my personal apology for the impact this has had on our wonderful Pepperdine community."
There has been no statement to the Malibu community at large.
While this saga is seen as an obvious tragedy for all concerned, there was the potential for an even greater tragedy involving dozens or more people that no one appears willing to discuss publicly.
A bail hearing held on Monday resulted in Benton's initial bail amount of $250,000 being reduced to $195,000.
As The News goes to press, he remains in custody in Men's Central Jail downtown.
The first airing of the felony charges is set for Friday, Sept. 7, in Van Nuys Municipal Court.