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Air Force suspect in cop ambush killing is also linked to federal officer killing; charged with 19 felonies

A gavel sits in the Luke Air Force Base courtroom Feb. 19. The legal office at Luke handles a multitude of cases involving adverse consequences and well as helping military personnel with their legal issues. (U.S. Air Force/Released)

A U.S. Air Force sergeant accused of ambushing Santa Cruz County deputies is also believed to be the gunman who shot a federal officer in Oakland, a law enforcement source confirmed Thursday, linking the extraordinary tragedies that may have been spurred in part by extremist, anti-law enforcement views found in the dark corners of social media.

The explosive claim connecting the cases comes the same day that Steven Carrillo, 32, was charged with 19 felonies, including murder, attempted murder, explosives charges and carjacking after the deadly rampage Saturday afternoon that terrorized the mountain community of Ben Lomond, where Carrillo grew up and lived with his father.

In a 14-page affidavit filed in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, Carrillo — who was on active duty at Travis Air Force Base — was charged with murder in the death of Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller and with the attempted murder of Deputy Alex Spencer, who was critically injured and remains hospitalized. They had been responding to a call from a concerned citizen in nearby Boulder Creek who reported seeing firearms and explosives in Carrillo’s white van.

In all, Carrillo was charged on Thursday with assaulting a firefighter and trying to kill three other law enforcement officers, as well as the resident who ultimately pinned him to the ground as he tried to steal the man’s car during a desperate run from police.

The affidavit does not mention the Oakland case nor Carrillo’s increasingly hostile anti-government social media posts that alarmed Facebook friends. And it remains unclear why an active duty Air Force sergeant would target members of federal and local law enforcement.

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“The link to the Oakland murder doesn’t necessarily surprise me,” said Troy Hunter, a Silicon Valley software engineer who was one of Carrillo’s alleged carjacking victims in Ben Lomond on Saturday. Hunter thwarted Carrillo’s getaway when he removed the keys from the ignition and ran. “It’s more surprising that this guy being an active Air Force member would go down that route. It’s absolutely a little alarming.”

As the country grapples with the Black Lives Matter protests and police use of rubber bullets and tear gas, the rampage in Ben Lomond and the killing in Oakland of a federal officer, who was black, further entangle any notion of clear left and right political battle lines.

A former friend of Carrillo’s — Justin Ehrhardt, who had served in the Air Force with him before retiring — said Carrillo’s Facebook posts point to a right-wing extremist group that includes former and active military members. In particular, Carrillo was sharing memes about the so-called “Boogaloo” movement that considers itself a libertarian anti-government citizen militia that is preparing for the next American civil war. Last week, 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.

Carrillo considered himself a Libertarian, Ehrhardt said, speculating that police use of force during the protests may have pushed him over the edge.

“Excessive use of force on unarmed civilians — that was a huge thing for him,” Ehrhardt said. “It was a mental tipping point for him.” Ehrhardt imagined it was Carrillo’s way of saying, “If I’m going to fight for something, it’s going to be against the establishment.”

According to the affidavit, Carrillo killed Gutzwiller while “lying in wait” for officers on Saturday afternoon at his Ben Lomond home and opened fire and lobbed pipe bombs before stealing one vehicle and attempting to carjack several others. Carrillo ultimately was wrestled to the ground by a nearby, unnamed resident whom Santa Cruz Sheriff Jim Hart praised for a “remarkable, heroic” act.

Carrillo also is charged with the attempted murder of that resident, who Hart said knocked away a pipe bomb and firearm as he grappled with Carrillo before officers arrived.

On Thursday, a source close to the investigation confirmed Carrillo is also believed to be behind the May 29 Oakland shooting that claimed the life of Federal Protective Services officer Dave Patrick Underwood. Underwood had been patrolling the federal building in Oakland blocks from a protest as tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the country after the Minneapolis police killing of Floyd.

Federal prosecutors are reviewing the Oakland case and are expected to make a filing decision in coming days.

In testimony before a congressional panel on Wednesday, Underwood’s sister, Angela Underwood-Jacobs, said her heartbreak and grief are unexplainable.

“My brother wore a uniform, and he wore that uniform proudly. I’m wondering, where is the outrage for a fallen officer that also happens to be African American?” Jacobs told the House Judiciary Committee. “I truly hope that you take your positions, your offices so seriously that you want to go back and really work together and collaborate, because if you can’t get it right, there’s no hope for the rest of us.”

Carrillo had been living with his father in Ben Lomond over the two years since his wife, who was also in the Air Force, committed suicide while in South Carolina on a training program. He has been a member of a security squadron at Travis Air Force Base since 2018.

Carrillo has two school-age children who are living with his late wife’s parents.

Gutzwiller, the officer Carrillo is charged with killing, left behind a pregnant wife and young child. More than a thousand people turned out the day after his death for a vigil, and while it was clear that the case had national political overtones, the tragedy was deeply personal for this local community.

“There’s a hole in all of our hearts now,” Hart said.

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