Ex-Air Force sergeant to change plea in murder of federal security officer

News

Nate Gartrell and Jessica A. York

Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.

Steven Carrillo, the ex- U.S. Air Force staff sergeant accused of murdering law enforcement officers in separate incidents in Oakland and Ben Lomond, is set to plead guilty Friday in the killing of a federal security officer, court records show.

Carrillo, 33, faces federal charges in the murder of Federal Protective Services Officer Dave Patrick Underwood, who was killed in Oakland in a May 2020 drive-by shooting, and state murder charges for the killing of Santa Cruz Sheriff Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller a week later during an ambush on Carrillo’s property. Prosecutors have alleged Carrillo is connected to a Northern California militia associated with the anti-government “Boogaloo” movement, which advocates for a second Civil War.

At the time of both crimes, Carrillo was an Air Force staff sergeant stationed at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield. He lived in Ben Lomond, a wooded, hilly part of Santa Cruz County, where federal authorities allege he crafted pipe bombs and constructed the unregistered AR-15-style firearm used in both killings.

News of the change in Carrillo’s plea comes just a week after federal prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in Underwood’s killing. It is not clear what sentence prosecutors will ask for.

Carrillo’s attorney, James Thomson, did not respond Monday to requests for comment.

Carrillo allegedly opened fire on Underwood and his partner, who were working a night shift at the Ron Dellums Federal Building on the night of May 29, as protests against the murder of George Floyd by police moved through downtown Oakland. According to the FBI, his motive was simply to murder law enforcement officers.

The alleged driver of the van Carrillo was riding in — a Boogaloo-associated Bay Area man named Robert Alvin Justus — also faces federal charges of murdering Underwood. Justus allegedly confessed to the FBI days after the Underwood killing, placing most of the blame on Carrillo and claiming that he went along with the killing because he felt threatened by Carrillo. However surveillance footage showed Justus exiting Carrillo’s van, walking near the security booth where Underwood sat and then returning shortly before the shooting, according to the FBI.

After Underwood’s killing, Carrillo retreated to his Ben Lomond property. On June 6, 2020, a hunter found one of Carrillo’s two white vans in a remote part of the forest and called police because it appeared suspicious. Gutzwiller and other Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies responded to Carrillo’s home, where he opened fire on them. After killing Gutzwiller, he fled on foot, attempted carjackings and was eventually detained by a citizen.

At Carrillo’s property, the word “Boog” was found scrawled in blood, along with “stop the duopoly,” a reference to the two-party system, and “I became unreasonable,” a reference to a 2004 incident where a Colorado man went on a bulldozer rampage over a land dispute with his local government.

Carrillo’s arrest kicked off nationwide law enforcement action targeting other alleged Boogaloo Boys, including a man who allegedly sold an illegal gun modifier to Carrillo from an online business based in West Virginia, and a Texas resident accused of shooting up a police station in Minneapolis.

According to court records, Carrillo was in frequent communication with other members of the Boogaloo movement around the United States both before and after the killing. They communicated on Facebook groups and messaging apps, and Carrillo bragged about the homicide, telling a Texas resident who encouraged him to shoot up police buildings, “I did better lol,” prosecutors say.

He also met with and trained with members of a Boogaloo militia known as the Grizzly Scouts, whose leader and three other members were hit with federal charges in the wake of Carrillo’s arrest. On Feb. 22, they are set to plead guilty to destroying evidence of their communications with Carrillo after he allegedly ambushed and murdered Gutzwiller, in a shooting that wounded three other officers. One of the four also faces child exploitation charges for inappropriate communications with a teen girl.

Members of the Grizzly Scouts allegedly plotted violence against police, including “Cartel-style” attacks, kidnapping law enforcement and treating them as “prisoners of war” and impersonating members of Antifa to start violence at protests. Carrillo also discussed wanting to use the murder of Floyd by Minneapolis police to instigate anti-police violence and met with another Grizzly Scouts member just three days before carrying out the Underwood assassination, prosecutors say.

In an early court appearance in 2020, shortly after he was mentioned at the Republican National Convention, Carrillo showed up wearing a mask with handwritten inscriptions that read, “We the people,” and “BLM,” along with “Portland, Kenosha, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.”

In interviews since his arrest, Carrillo has talked about his belief that law enforcement and the federal government were overreaching but avoided discussions about his case.

He has waived his right to a preliminary hearing in Santa Cruz County on the Gutzwiller murder charge and is in custody in Santa Rita Jail awaiting trial.

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