SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Three confessed militia members were sentenced Thursday to six months in jail for destroying evidence of their ties to Steven Carrillo, another member of the group who shot and killed two law enforcement officers in 2020.
Jessie Rush, 31, Simon Sage Ybarra, 25, and Kenny Miksch, 23, were members of the Grizzly Scouts, an anti-government militia affiliated with the extremist Boogaloo ideology whose adherents want to bring about a second Civil War.
The men connected on a Facebook group called “K/alifornia Kommando.” The Facebook group’s description stated, “they say the west won’t boog,” and the group was “here to gather like minded Californians who can network and establish local goon squads.”
Rush, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, founded the Grizzly Scouts in April 2020. He appointed himself commander with the nickname “Major.”
The men began meeting for firearms training, and in their group chats they discussed waging war against the government and committing acts of violence against cops.
"It was not just talk,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Cheng said in court. “The men met in person. They trained with firearms. They set forth operation orders.” He added that assault style weapons, tactical gear and ammunition were recovered from the defendants’ homes. “They were prepared.”
On May 29, 2020, Carrillo shot and killed federal protective officer David Patrick Underwood and gravely wounded Underwood’s partner as they stood guard in front of the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building.
Carrillo was arrested on June 6, 2020, 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 officers, but not before sending a text to the group chat asking for backup.
Rush allegedly told Carrillo to delete the data on his phone and try to evade capture.
Following Carrillo's arrest, Rush, Ybarra and Miksch deleted the WhatsApp group and started a new chat on another platform with disappearing messages. Ybarra also drove to Turlock to meet up with Rush, where they deleted Dropbox files containing information on the group’s structure and membership.
“They knew there would be an investigation and it would look into him as well as them and they took action to cover it up,” Cheng said.
All three were indicted in 2021 and each has pleaded guilty to one count of destroying records in official proceedings. Another member of the group, Robert Blancas, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in August 2021. Blancas also admitted to a separate charge of enticing a 15-year-old girl he met through the social media app Whisper to send him pornographic photos and videos of herself. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for July.
At the outset of Thursday’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge James Donato said the trio were not being sentenced for thought or speech crimes, as their defense attorneys seemed to suggest. “Nobody here is being sentenced for the content of their thoughts or political speech they may have engaged in, their viewpoints on the world, or anything related to the First Amendment," Donato said. "It's just simply wrong to suggest that.”
Back in February, Donato rejected plea agreements that proposed 10 to 12 months in federal prison as too lenient. But in an apparent reversal, Donato ended up imposing even less time than recommended by the government or the sentencing guidelines of eight to 14 months.
All three will serve their sentences at Santa Rita Jail, rather than federal prison.
Donato appeared moved by expressions of remorse from all three defendants. Reading off his phone, Rush spoke at length about his struggle with depression and PTSD stemming from his military service and deployment in Afghanistan, the global pandemic, and the civil unrest and protests that erupted in the summer of 2020 over multiple incidents of brutality and murder by cops.
Rush said he spent too much time on social media and was unduly influenced by inflammatory speeches by elected officials.
“I was fearful and paranoid of what was happening around me at the time. I acted in a rash and uncontrolled manner and that was not me,” he told Donato, reading from a prepared statement on his phone in court. “I admit I am an extremely damaged individual. But I am not broken I am not beyond repair. I'm not a monster. I am a man who made mistakes that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I ask that I not be judged by the mistakes that don't define me.”
Rush said he has since limited his social media use, blocked certain news sites, and sees a therapist twice a month. He said he is working to accept the things he cannot control, rather than succumb to the urge to rush into battle.
“I started today thinking something in the range of 14 months might be appropriate. After further consideration and listening to Mr. Rush's statements, he's made some good efforts on his own to address the personal circumstances and mental state that put him in this position,” Donato said before handing down Rush’s sentence.
Speaking off the cuff, Ybarra also said he was led astray by social media and that a period of unemployment had made him anxious and impressionable.
“I'm sorry and I deeply regret the statements I made supporting violence against others,” he said. “I lost my head with all of the social media and I was scared about what was going on in the country. I was worried about a lot of things.”
Though Ybarra had the most direct contact with Carrillo, even meeting with him in the days leading up to Underwood’s murder, Donato said Ybarra’s age persuaded him to give Ybarra an equivalent sentence to Rush’s.
Miksch, the youngest of the group, was 21 when he joined the Grizzly Scouts. Miksch told Donato that he is deeply sorry for the pain suffered by the families of Carrillo’s victims. Now employed as a welder, he said he wanted to focus on his career.
“I will put everything I have into becoming a better man that my girlfriend and family can be proud of,” he said.
His sentence was the same as that of his comrades.
Carrillo is currently facing 41 years to life in prison over the Oakland shooting. In February, Carrillo accepted a deal that required him to plead guilty to one count of using a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime resulting in death and one count of attempting to murder Underwood’s partner.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who is overseeing Carrillo’s case, said she still hasn’t decided whether to accept the deal. His next court date is June 3.