Man who ambushed, killed Calif. deputy sentenced to life without parole

Steven Carrillo shot and killed Santa Cruz County Sheriff's deputy Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller during a firefight with law enforcement


By Jessica A. York
Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Former U.S. Air Force Sgt. Steven Carrillo will serve life in a California prison, without the option of parole or appeal, a Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge ruled Friday.

Carrillo, 34, formerly of Ben Lomond, shot and killed Santa Cruz County Sheriff's deputy Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller during a firefight with law enforcement on his family's Waldeberg Road property on June 6, 2020. Carrillo, part of an extremist and violent anti-government and anti-law enforcement "Boogaloo" movement, also attempted to murder five others — including Ramponi, Deputy Alex Spencer, two California Highway Patrol officers and Patzke, all charges to which he admitted as part of a plea agreement June 27.

Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell speaks as proceedings get under way on Friday, June 12, 2020 during the arraignment of Steven Carrillo, seen in a video link at far right, for the killing of Santa Cruz Sheriff's Deputy Damon Gutzwiller in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell speaks as proceedings get under way on Friday, June 12, 2020 during the arraignment of Steven Carrillo, seen in a video link at far right, for the killing of Santa Cruz Sheriff's Deputy Damon Gutzwiller in Santa Cruz, Calif. (Shmuel Thaler/The Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP)

Friday's sentence was delivered before a courtroom packed with family, friends and coworkers of Gutzwiller, along with those Carrillo had injured and their supporters. Two additional courtrooms were set aside for overflow community attendees to listen in while several emotional victim statements were read aloud.

Carrillo, seated between defense attorneys Mark Briscoe and Larry Biggam, faced toward the front of the courtroom and away from the speaker's podium throughout the hearing. The two exceptions were when Deputy Emma Ramponi and Sam Patzke addressed the court, the only two who interacted with Carrillo directly on June 6, 2020, and did not have others read their statements.

"There is no justice for what you have done," said Fabiola Del Real, Gutzwiller's partner and the mother to his two young children. "There will never be justice. They could kill you a million times over and it would never be enough."

Patzke, a Ben Lomond man who had been publicly referred to thus far as an anonymous " John Doe," helped apprehend Carrillo after finding the man hiding inside his property's play structure. Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick told Patzke that the community owed him a "major debt" for confronting and subduing the armed man.

"I was very afraid that day. When I tackled the defendant, I didn't want to die, but I was willing to risk my life in order to protect my loved ones and those around me," Patzke said. "The deputies who responded to the call that day were also putting their lives on the line to protect our community. They rushed to put themselves in between the people of our county and an active shooter."

[RELATED: Thousands gather to mourn Calif. deputy killed in ambush]

Patzke described Carrillo as a narcissist who appeared to show no regret for his actions immediately after the June 2020 shooting or during later court hearings. Carrillo alternately lectured Patzke about his political leanings and perceived societal problems and physically threatened him with weapons including firearms, a pipe bomb and knife, Patzke said.

Also speaking during the hearing was Dorie Spencer, who read her husband Deputy Alex Spencer's words. While she detailed Carrillo's violent ambush assault and the moment when Alex Spencer reached down to grab his sergeant, Gutzwiller, "and realized he was deceased," Del Real silently sobbed with head lowered. Spencer's narrative went on to describe how Carrillo fled the property in a sedan and plowed into the already-injured Spencer, allowing the deputy to see "pure hatred and evil" in Carrillo's eyes.

Carrillo will serve his sentence simultaneously with a 41-year federal murder sentence handed down in May for fatally shooting federal protective services officer Patrick Underwood an injuring another officer during a May 29, 2020, Black Lives Matter event in Oakland.

Burdick said that, though Carrillo had already served 812 days in jail, those days would not lessen the amount of time he would spend "in the confines of the California Department of Corrections."

"I know there are many folks who have been directly impacted who would have preferred to see a consecutive sentence as to each of these counts," Burdick said at the end of Friday's hearing. "I'm mindful that that might have been meaningful in a symbolic way to express the community's outrage and condemnation for the defendant's conduct and murderous acts of terrorism and redress irreparable harm that all of you folks have suffered. But the law recognized that, in the end, Mr. Carrillo has only one life to live."

NEXT: Police ambush prevention and response: Evolving risk assessment and tactics

(c)2022 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)

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