In a hearing on Wednesday, federal officials were discussing authorizing the death penalty for both Steven Carrillo and Robert Alvin Justus, Jr., the suspected shooter and driver, respectively, in the May 29 killing of a Federal Protective Services officer outside the Ron Dellums Federal Building in Oakland.
Carrillo, the 32-year-old Air Force sergeant and Boogaloo enthusiast who is also the sole suspect in the murder of a Santa Cruz Sheriff's deputy several days after the Oakland shooting, is believed to have coerced Justus into participating in the shooting, which took place during a night of George Floyd protests nearby. The pair allegedly met online in a Facebook groups for Boogaloo followers, and agreed to meet ostensibly to do harm to law enforcement personnel — which is one aim of the loosely defined Boogaloo movement, which is also gunning for a second Civil War. Justus ultimately turned himself in to the FBI in San Francisco, expressing remorse, in the days following the Santa Cruz County shooting.
Federal officer David Patrick Underwood, 53, died in the shooting.
As KOIN reports, federal officials may be seeking the death penalty, but the judge noted at Wednesday's hearing that death penalty authorization in federal cases is likely going to be delayed due to the possibility of a change of presidential administration following the election — and a consequent change of U.S. Attorney General.
Defense attorneys for Carrillo and Justus say that they still need more time to develop trust and get to know their clients, which has been hampered by pandemic restrictions. As the Mercury News reported earlier this month, filings by the defense suggest that they have received "81,737 pages, 4,559 photos, 131 videos, 13 audios, and 8 device extraction folders" in the way of discovery from federal prosecutors. And KOIN reports that prosecutors said they are still in the process of producing more discovery.
Among the latest documents were transcripts of interviews with Justus in which he claims to have been held at gunpoint by Carrillo the night of May 29, before they drove to Oakland to commit their alleged crimes.
The pair had never met in person before Carrillo picked Justus up in an unmarked white van at the San Leandro BART station that night. After Carrillo reportedly pulled back a curtain to reveal a cache of weapons and ammunition, and began loading a magazine, Justus told prosecutors that he said, "I don’t like this, I am not cool with this," after which Carrillo allegedly pointed an AR-15 rifle at him.
"Are you a cop or a rat?" Carrillo allegedly asked.
When investigators asked Justus what he was thinking in that moment, he replied, "That I am going to fucking die."
The Boogaloo movement is define primarily by memes, jokes, and coded language about the "sequel" to the Civil War — "Boogaloo" itself comes from the cult-favorite 1980s breakdancing franchise Breakin', and a sequel that was notoriously a carbon-copy of the original called Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. Followers, some of whom are apparently military or former military like Carrillo, express distrust of government and particularly federal law enforcement, and wear Hawaiian shirts in another part of their joke-y code.
In their online chats, Carrillo and Justus discussed targeting "soup bois," referring to the "alphabet soup" of government agencies like the FBI, DEA, and HSA. And Carrillo's stated intent in those messages was to use the cover of the civil unrest in Oakland to commit mayhem of his own.
"Go to the riots and support our own cause. Show them the real targets," Carrillo wrote, according to prosecutors. "Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage."
Following the fatal shooting of Santa Cruz Sheriff's Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller on June 6, Carrillo allegedly scrawled some Boogaloo messaging in his own blood on the hood of a vehicle in Ben Lomond, including the phrases, "stop the duopoly," and "I became unreasonable" — the latter referring to anti-government movement hero Marvin Heemeyer, who bulldozed 13 buildings in a Colorado mountain town over a zoning dispute before taking his own life and leaving behind a note that said, "I was always willing to be reasonable until I had to be unreasonable."
It remains to be seen if Justus will be prosecuted as harshly as Carrillo for his role as an accessory to murder.
As Alex Newhouse, a researcher with the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, told the Mercury News, "The dangerous part is, probably the vast majority of people are like [Justus], who picked up his gun, went to do something, then realized he didn’t have the stomach for it. But the danger of radicalization is that you only need a very small number of people to cause a lot of mayhem and destruction."
The next hearing on the case against Carrillo and Justus is scheduled for January 27, after the inauguration. Carrillo is set to be back in (virtual) court in December for a hearing on the charges in the Santa Cruz County case.