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Militia members face 20 years in prison for destroying evidence in murder investigation

A federal judge will sentence them on May 5, having tossed a plea agreement that recommended only a maximum of one year in prison for militia members linked to the extremist “Boogaloo” movement.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Two members of an anti-government militia pleaded guilty Monday to destroying evidence connected to the fatal shooting of law enforcement officers in the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago.

Jesse Rush, 30, and Simon Ybarra, 24, face significantly more prison time after U.S. District Judge James Donato threw out plea agreements in February that recommended 10 to 12 months in federal prison, KGO-TV reported at the time, saying their intent to kill law enforcement officers makes them a serious public threat.

Donato said Monday that while he doesn’t know what sentence he will impose, they could each get a maximum of 20 years without parole. “You may receive a sentence that surprises you, or maybe even shocks you — that nobody told you was possible and that you never thought could happen,” Donato told the pair separately in court. “But you will not be allowed to withdraw your guilty plea.”

Rush and Ybarra along with a third defendant Kenny Miksch, 22, were indicted in April 2021 on charges of destroying records to throw off an investigation into a shooting at an Oakland courthouse in May 2020 where one federal officer was killed and another gravely wounded.

According to the indictment, 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.”

Some members began meeting periodically for firearms training as part of a militia group called “First California Grizzly Scouts.” Rush, an Army veteran, founded the Grizzly Scouts in April 2020, appointing himself commander with the nickname “Major.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Cheng said Monday that the trio also discussed committing acts of violence against police officers on a WhatsApp group called “209 Goon HQ.” “They discussed tactics for killing police officers and other law enforcement,” he said.

The firearms training and bravado came to a head on May 29, 2020, when former U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Carrillo, another Grizzly Scout member, 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 initially pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and attempted murder in July 2020.

In February, Carrillo agreed to a plea deal that required him to plead guilty to one count of using a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime resulting in death — a lesser offense — and one count of attempting to murder Underwood’s partner.

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.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said she hasn’t decided whether to accept the deal, but set another hearing on the matter for June.

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. Carrillo has also pleaded not guilty to killing Gutzwiller.

Cheng said that as the police were closing in on Carrillo, he sent his militia buddies a WhatsApp message asking for help.
“Carrillo told the Grizzly Scouts that police were approaching his property and he was preparing to engage in a shootout and asked members to come to his aid,” he said.

Rush responded that Carrillo should delete any evidence of their communications by doing a “factory reset” on his phone.
Within hours, Rush, Ybarra, and Miksch began deleting their texts, Cheng said, and later reconnected on Signal to continue their discussions and “confirm with each other that defendant destroyed evidence related to the group.”

Miksch is scheduled to plead guilty on May 2 since a scheduling conflict with his attorney precluded him from attending Monday’s hearing. Donato said he will sentence all three on May 5. “I don't know what's going to happen but please be prepared for immediate surrender,” Donato told Ybarra and Rush.

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 11.

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