Anti-government militia member and former Air Force Sgt. Steven Carrillo pleaded guilty Monday in his second capital murder case to killing a Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
Steven Carrillo, 34, of Ben Lomond appeared at Alameda County Superior Court in Dublin for what was scheduled as a trial date-setting hearing, instead entering his amended plea to nine felony counts and several special allegations. Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell said the plea came as a result of a negotiated settlement in which his office would not seek the death penalty. Instead, Carrillo is expected to face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Our hearts go out to all Santa Cruz County law enforcement officers affected by the horrific events on June 6, 2020, in particular the Gutzwiller family,” Rosell said in a prepared statement. “Although nothing can bring Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller back, we hope that today can bring some measure of justice for everyone touched by this tragedy. The plea today, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, will ensure that the defendant will spend the rest of his life in prison where he belongs.”
As part of the deal, several charges against Carrillo were dropped. Remaining charges included murder, four attempted murder charges against law enforcement officers, an additional attempted murder of a civilian, carjacking, possession of an assault weapon and possession of an explosive device. Each of the murder/attempted murder charges was accompanied by enhancements for willful discharge of a weapon. The murder charge also carried enhancements for murder of a peace officer and murder as an attempt to avoid arrest.
Prior to engaging with officers, Carrillo began messaging fellow members of the Grizzly Scouts, a paramilitary group known to espouse the Boogaloo ideology. The Boogaloo movement revolved around the desire for a violent overthrow of the government and starting a second civil war and resulted in violent attacks on law enforcement across the country, according to a release from Rosell’s office.
When Santa Cruz County deputies arrived at Carrillo’s home, he assumed they had linked him to a murder he had committed a week earlier, Carrillo admitted in a prepared statement he read aloud to the court Monday, as heard through live-streamed audio court proceedings. He said he began firing on deputies in an attempt to escape apprehension.
One exchange between Carrillo and members of the group included Carrillo asking the others to come to his rescue.
“They’re waiting for reenforcments I’m listening to them…Dudes I offed a fed…They’re staging…Come help. I have cameras everywhere here they’re waiting,” Carrillo reportedly typed, per a partial transcript of cell phone and foresenic records provided by Rosell’s office.
Carrillo used the same rifle modified into a fully automatic assault weapon to kill Gutzwiller as he had used in a murder one week earlier.
On June 3, Carrillo was sentenced to a 41-year federal prison sentence for the earlier murder, a sentence that also arose out of a plea deal. On May 29, 2020, Carrillo had been involved in a drive-by shooting in Oakland, where he killed Federal Protective Services Officer Patrick Underwood and injured a second security guard. One week later, Carrillo killed Gutzwiller and attempted to kill two other deputies and two California Highway Patrol officers that responded to his Ben Lomond home.
Three weeks ago, after a remembrance ceremony for Gutzwiller held at a county park to be renamed in the deputy’s honor, Sheriff Jim Hart weighed in on Carrillo’s federal sentencing.
“I was really disappointed in that sentence. I thought 41 years, a drive-by shooting of a security officer, killed one, wounded another, to me that’s a life-without-parole case,” Hart told the Sentinel. “I thought the federal government should have set the tone with these extremist groups that if you do this kind of activity, you either get the death penalty or you’re going to prison for the rest of your life.
“I think if we’re trying to set a tone of this type of behavior, this type of action against the government is not going to be tolerated or accepted in California or anywhere in our country, you’ve got to drop the hammer on these guys and give them significant sentences where people are going to think twice,” Hart added.
According to a “statement of facts” document read aloud Monday in court by Rosell, Carrillo’s attack in Ben Lomond was prompted by deputies investigating a call reporting a white van seen illegally parked on a remote section of Jamison Creek Road in Boulder Creek. Inside, the caller reported, were what appeared to be bomb-making materials and ammunition. The van was registered to an ML Carrillo on Waldeberg Road in Ben Lomond, leading a deputy and two deputies providing back-up to drive to the home.
Gutzwiller was killed around 2:26 p.m., during Carrillo’s initial attack, and deputy Alex Spencer was shot in the chest in the next onslaught. Spencer and the originally responding office, deputy Emma Ramponi, escaped through the woods after alerting dispatch that Gutzwiller had been shot. Hearing the call, CHP officers Michael Estey and Luis Rodriguez drove to the scene and ended up trapped between the deputies’ parked cars and an arriving ambulance on the narrow road. Seeing Carrillo approaching on foot from the car’s rear, officers and Carrillo exchanged fire, with injuries on both sides.
Carrillo fled and stole a Toyota Camry at gunpoint nearby. Spencer and Ramponi, meanwhile, had located a firefighter who was providing medical aid for Spencer on Trout Gulch Rad. Carrillo drove by, striking Spencer and sending his body flying, according to Rosell. The Camry was later found abandoned with the message “I became unreasonable Boog Stop the duopoly” written in Carrillo’s blood on its trunk.
Carrillo, still armed with his weapon, walked to a business complex and unsuccessfully attempted to carjack several more vehicles. Then, while Carrillo was hiding inside an enclosed slide of a children’s play structure at a nearby home, a Good Samaritan noticed him and urged him to move along to a different residence. There, the two spoke until the Good Samaritan disarmed Carrillo and the two engaged in a scuffle in which Carrillo first attempted to set off a pipe bomb and then shoot the man with a pistol. The Good Samaritan then subdued Carrillo until law enforcement officers could arrive at 3:38 p.m.
Carrillo will be sentenced on Aug. 26.
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