SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A former U.S. Air Force sergeant with ties to a violent antigovernment group stood before a federal judge on Friday and admitted to deliberately shooting and killing federal protective officer David Patrick Underwood and gravely wounding Underwood's partner during a protest in Oakland on May 29, 2020.
Underwood and his partner were guarding the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building as demonstrators marched through nearby streets to protest racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer.
Short and paunchy in his red Santa Rita jail jumpsuit, Steven Carrillo, 33, read his plea agreement into the record at the behest of U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who said she hasn't decided whether to accept it.
“I deliberately and intentionally attacked the two federal officers,” Carrillo read, drawing sobs from Underwood’s family and friends who watched from the gallery. “I intended to kill the victims.”
Carrillo initially pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and attempted murder in July 2020.
The agreement required him to plead guilty to one count of using a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime resulting in death— a lesser offense than the first degree murder count with which he was initially charged— and one count of attempting to murder Underwood’s partner.
Before he entered his change of plea, Underwood’s sister Angela Underwood Jacobs addressed the court, speaking calmly and forcefully about the void her brother’s murder left in her family. He was 53 years-old.
“My brother should be alive today. His death was unnecessary. He died in a cold, sterile room, instead of being surrounded by his family. He will never get married, have children, or grandchildren. He will never grow old with the one he loves. Holidays and birthdays will never be the same again.”
To Carrillo, she said, “In some ways we cry for even you. I wonder why you committed these heinous crimes. Was it to belong to something bigger than yourself? Your soul must be dark and empty. You must have wanted someone to care for you. So you joined a group filled with hate. You are a disgrace to the country you say you were defending. You are a snake hidden away among honorable men and women. Did your country fail you? No. You failed your country. You failed humanity. You failed yourself.”
Underwood Jacobs said her brother was loved and cherished. “He was a courageous man you could never aspire to emulate,” she said.
Carrillo was arrested on June 6, having fled to Ben Lomond where he ambushed deputies from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s office who were responding to a witness report of a white van containing firearms and bombmaking materials at Carrillo’s residence. Carrillo fatally shot Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, 38, and wounded other deputies. Carrillo has also pleaded not guilty to killing Gutzwiller.
Another man, 31 year-old Robert Alvin Justus Jr., is suspected of driving the white Ford cargo van from which prosecutors say Carrillo fired bullets at the two federal officers. Justus pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting murder and attempted murder.
Justus, who turned himself in to the FBI, claims he did not support Carrillo’s plan, but was afraid of Carrillo and felt he had no choice but to cooperate. Federal authorities believe he was a willing participant.
Prosecutors linked Carrillo to the antigovernment, pro-gun Boogaloo movement, whose adherents believe a second civil war is close at hand. Carrillo said he was indeed affiliated with this group, and that he encouraged violence against the government and law enforcement.
“I wanted to carry out violent acts on federal officers,” he said.
Carrillo told the court that he and Justus deliberately planned to drive into Oakland to target federal law enforcement officials on May 29, when they knew law enforcement would be distracted by the large crowds of protesters.
“We knew there was a protest in Oakland,” Carrillo said. “I went with the intention to harm law enforcement.”
The day before the shooting at the Oakland federal courthouse, Carrillo posted on Facebook, “Go to the riots and support our own cause. Show them the real targets. Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage.”
He also posted, “Anyone down to boog? This is a great time to perpetuate the destruction of the government.”
Carrillo said Justus sent him a Facebook friend request on May 28. “Let’s boogie,” he told Carrillo.
The two met at the San Leandro BART station the evening of May 29. Carrillo showed up in a white van and ordered Justus to drive, handing him a gun and offering body armor, which Justus allegedly declined to use.
Justus claims he tried to dissuade Carrillo from shooting at a helicopter, police officers and civilians as he circled the streets of downtown Oakland.
Carrillo eventually opened the side door of the van and opened fire on the guard post in front of the Oakland federal building, allegedly saying something to the effect of “did you see how they fucking fell,” as Justus drove away.
On Friday, Carrillo admitted to firing approximately 19 rounds at the victims using a privately-made "AR-15 style rifle."
Prosecutors did not rule out capital punishment until Jan. 31, when they filed a notice with the court that they would not seek the death penalty.
The new counts still carry a life sentence, but the parties have agreed that he should face 41 years in federal prison with a lifetime of supervised release.
Gonzalez Rogers said she still hasn’t decided whether to accept the deal. “I’m going to need a sufficient showing to justify this agreement,” she said.
She set a sentencing date for June 3 in San Francisco.
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