SANTA CRUZ—The man accused of killing a Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputy and trying to kill three other law enforcement officials and a civilian during a June 6 crime spree made his first court appearance Friday, but put off entering a plea until July 17.
Steven Carrillo is facing 19 felony counts, including first-degree murder, attempted murder and using explosives in an attempt to commit murder.
He is accused in the shooting death of Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, 38, who had been with the Sheriff’s department since 2006.
Because Carrillo also faces special allegations of lying in wait and committing capital murder, he could face the death penalty, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick said.
District Attorney Jeff Rosell did not say whether he plans to pursue death in the case.
“We are considering all options,” he said. “We will carefully consider the individual facts and circumstances of this case, the facts and circumstances of any other case as well as this defendant’s background.”
The FBI has said it is looking into connections between Carrillo’s arrest in sleepy Santa Cruz County town of Ben Lomond and the shooting death on May 29 of a federal officer in Oakland.
Before his arrest, Carrillo reportedly used blood to write messages such as “Boog,” “Stop the Duopoly” and “I became unreasonable,” all of which are associated with the newly-spawned Boogaloo Bois, a group of violent, right-wing extremists that claim they want to start a civil war and say they are opposed to both the police and government.
Rosell did not comment on whether Carrillo is a member of that group, saying the case is still being investigated. He referred questions about the Oakland shooting to the FBI, which has declined to comment.
“This is an active, ongoing investigation that we are going to be looking into his connections, if any, to other groups, and we are going to be looking into his background like we would with any case,” Rosell said.
Carrillo made his appearance via video conference from Monterey County Jail, where he is being held without bail.
Several uniformed Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies were present throughout the courthouse during the hearing, which was broadcast for reporters via video screen in two additional courtrooms due to social distancing requirements.
The incident began when Gutzwiller and another deputy responded to a call around 1:30pm of a suspicious van with guns and bomb-making materials parked on the road about five miles north of Boulder Creek.
Responding deputies found the van at a home on Waldeburg Road in Ben Lomond.
Carrillo allegedly used an AR-15 rifle to shoot Gutzwiller when he and the other deputy went to contact the driver. The second deputy was injured.
Carrillo then ambushed two California Highway Patrol officers who responded to the scene, and was shot during the ensuing gun battle, Rosell said.
Law enforcement officials were also injured when Carrillo allegedly threw explosive devices at them, police said.
Later, Carrillo tried to ignite a pipe bomb and to draw a pistol, when a resident tackled him and, with help of two other residents and a dog named Brown, held him down until police arrived.
“He attempted to murder four other policemen, and he attempted to murder a civilian. So we charged him with everything it was appropriate to charge him with,” Rosell said.
Carrillo was an active-duty sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at the 60th Security Forces Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Public Affairs Officer 2nd Lt. Mike Longoria said. He joined in 2018.
Carrillo’s attorney Jeffrey Stotter said that his client has suffered “personal loss, family loss” in the last several years, likely referring to his wife, who died in 2018 while serving in the U.S. Air Force in South Carolina. Her death was ruled a suicide.
Stotter also said that Carrillo suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2009, but said it did not happen in connection to his military service.
“I am not aware of what impact these things may have on the case,” Stotter said. “I’m simply pointing out that there are more colors to Mr. Carrillo—and what his possible motivation and what his involvement is—beyond what you may hear simply form the complaint and the worst-case scenario allegations. He is a human being also.”