Prosecutors: Ambush slaying of Calif. officers linked to extremist group

The U.S. Air Force sergeant who allegedly murdered a deputy earlier this month has been charged with a second ambush of a federal officer


Nate Gartrell and Fiona Kelliher
Mercury News

OAKLAND, Calif. — Steven Carrillo, the U.S. Air Force sergeant who allegedly murdered a Santa Cruz deputy earlier this month, has been charged with a second deadly ambush of federal officers a week earlier — alongside a second man who allegedly drove the drive-by shooting van — in attacks that authorities say were driven by Carrillo’s extremist, anti-law enforcement views and ties to a group that believes a second American Civil War is coming soon.

During a Tuesday press conference, the Northern District U.S. Attorney’s office announced it was charging Carrillo with assassinating Federal Protective Services Officer Patrick David Underwood, who was shot and killed in Oakland on May 29. Prosecutors made the announcement at the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building, just yards away from where Underwood and his partner — who was shot but survived — were fired upon from a white van, in what authorities have described as “an ambush.”

Steven Carrillo has been charged with the deadly ambushes of Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, left, and Federal Protective Services Officer Patrick David Underwood. (Photo/SCSO/Placer County Deputy Sheriffs' Association)
Steven Carrillo has been charged with the deadly ambushes of Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, left, and Federal Protective Services Officer Patrick David Underwood. (Photo/SCSO/Placer County Deputy Sheriffs' Association)

Jack Bennett, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said that the duo purposefully chose the protest as the site of the killing to better blend in — and to take advantage of community grief over the police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd.

“There is no evidence that these men had any intention to join the demonstration in Oakland … They came to Oakland to kill cops,” Bennett said.

Carrillo, 32, faces murder and attempted murder charges, while Millbrae resident Robert A. Justus Jr., 30, the suspected driver of the car, faces charges of attempted murder and aiding and abetting murder. The charges mean that Carrillo — who one month ago was leading an anti-terrorist U.S. Air Force security squadron known as the Phoenix Ravens — is facing simultaneous state and federal death penalty charges.

Justus was a suspect in the Oakland attack — and under FBI surveillance — when he unexpectedly showed up to the federal building in San Francisco and confessed to the FBI, authorities said. This occurred five days after the killing of Gutzwiller and Carrillo’s arrest on capital murder charges.

Authorities have officially linked the crimes to the so-called “Boogaloo” movement, a self-described libertarian anti-government citizen militia that is preparing for a supposed looming civil war. The messages “Boog” and “I became unreasonable” were scrawled in blood on the hood of the vehicle, authorities said, in presumed reference to the movement. Police also recovered a patch with a Boogaloo symbol inside the van allegedly used in both crimes.

Authorities also found a ballistic vest located inside one of Carrillo’s two white vans, with a symbol of an adulterated American flag with an igloo in place of the 50 stars. It is a common symbol of Boogaloo, authorities said.

The loosely organized group has also been linked to recent attacks on law enforcement in Nevada and Texas. A former friend Justin Ehrhardt told this news organization that Carrillo’s Facebook page was rife with memes related to the ideology.

The Oakland ambush occurred late May 29 near the intersection of 12th and Jefferson streets, as two guards, including Underwood, patrolled the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building while an anti-police brutality protest took place blocks away near City Hall. At about 9:45 p.m., a van pulled up to the building near a guard shelter and one of its occupants began shooting — killing Underwood and leaving another guard in critical condition.

Justus allegedly got out of the van and conducted “surveillance” on foot, while Carrillo waited inside the vehicle. Then they essentially performed a drive-by shooting, opening the sliding van door and firing on the officers before speeding away, according to the FBI.

Underwood, 53, was a Pinole resident who worked as a contract officer for the Federal Protective Service of the Department of Homeland Security.

About a week later on June 6, Carrillo allegedly attacked two other law enforcement agents — killing one — when he lobbed pipe bombs and opened fire with assault weapons on two Santa Cruz County deputies. They had been responding to a call from a concerned resident in nearby Boulder Creek who reported seeing firearms and explosives in Carrillo’s white van.

Carrillo has since been charged with 19 felonies related to the attack, including murdering Santa Cruz Sheriff Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller and attempting to murder the second deputy. The charges carry enhancements of “lying in wait,” making Carrillo eligible for the death penalty, and include assaulting a firefighter and trying to kill three other law enforcement officers — plus a local resident who held Carrillo down as he tried to steal the man’s car to evade police.

In the criminal complaint, federal authorities pointed to Facebook posts allegedly made by Carrillo, in which he voiced support for violence against law enforcement and made references to the Boogalloo movement.

“Go to the riots and support our own cause. Show them the real targets,” Carrillo allegedly wrote on one post. “Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage.”

In an exchange between Carrillo and Justus — posted to an unspecified Facebook group — Carrillo allegedly commented, “It’s on our coast now, this needs to be nationwide. It’s a great opportunity to target the specialty group soup bois.” The term “soup bois” is commonly used by Boogaloo followers to refer to federal agents.

“Let’s boogie,” Justus allegedly responded. The exchange was made the morning of May 28, roughly 36 hours before the attack on Underwood and his partner.

Authorities believe that the same white van registered to Carrillo’s address was used in both attacks. The suspected murder weapon is a recovered assault rifle equipped with a silencer that appeared to be a so-called “ghost gun,” meaning it was homemade and didn’t contain serial numbers, authorities said.

This is only the latest attack on law enforcement linked to Boogaloo, whose affiliates have made headlines in recent weeks for arrests ranging from alleged domestic terrorism to firearm offenses.

Earlier this month, the FBI arrested three adherents to the Boogaloo movement in Nevada, charging them with inciting violence with Molotov cocktails and other explosives at protests over the death of George Floyd. In April, a Texarkana, Texas man with alleged ties to Boogaloo was arrested on suspicion of capital attempted murder of a peace officer. He had two pistols and was wearing a ballistic vest when he was arrested, authorities said.

The phrase “I became unreasonable” is a reference to extremist Marvin Heemeyer, who in 2004 bulldozed over a dozen buildings in Granby, Colorado, before fatally shooting himself, after a zoning disagreement. In a note later uncovered by law enforcement, Heemeyer wrote, “I was always willing to be reasonable until I had to be unreasonable.”

The attack on Gutzwiller and his partner occurred at Carrillo’s home at 120 Waldeberg Road in Ben Lomond, the complaint says. Carrillo opened fire on the deputies. Gutzwiller was shot and killed, and his partner was shot and injured by bomb shrapnel, authorities said.

After the incident — which ended when Carrillo attempted several carjackings and was detained by a civilian — authorities honed in on a 1992 white Ford van that appeared similar to the one used in the Oakland attack. A forensic examination later confirmed it was the same van. Authorities say Carrillo made alterations to it, including spray-painting a window with white paint.

Cellphone records from Carrillo’s T-Mobile phone place him at the Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, where Carrillo was stationed, just hours before the Oakland attack. His phone was turned off around 8 p.m., and reactivated a little before 10 p.m., where its signal bounced off a tower near the Oakland Zoo, the complaint says.

Police believe he took a specific route to avoid crossing a bridge and being logged by a license plate reader.

Five days after Carrillo’s arrest, Justus showed up to the federal building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco, with his mother. During a subsequent interview, he said he met Carrillo on Facebook and that the two planned to travel to Oakland on May 29, according to the complaint.

Carrillo picked Justus up at the San Leandro BART station, where they removed license plates off the van. Justus told federal agents Carrillo offered him a gun and a ballistic vest, but he declined to use them.

Justus claimed he was simply looking for parking and “to see what was going on” when he walked around the Ron V. Dellums Building, shortly before the attack. He said he didn’t want to join Carrillo in the shooting but felt “trapped” after they met up, according to the complaint.

When agents pointed out that Justus could have left when he was walking around, he claimed he was trying to think of ways to talk Carrillo out of his plan. Carrillo wanted to fire upon helicopters or civilians, but Justus dissuaded him, he claimed, according to the complaint.

Justus’ first court appearance happened Monday, authorities said. Carrillo has not yet appeared in federal court. At his arraignment in Santa Cruz, his attorney said Carrillo suffered from trauma and that there was more to his story than the public knew.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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