SANTA CRUZ (CBS SF) — Hundreds of law enforcement officers from across the state, local residents, family and friends gathered Wednesday at the Cabrillo College football field to say farewell to Santa Cruz County Sheriff Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, who was slain when he and a fellow deputy were ambushed by accused slayer Steven Carrillo in Ben Lomond.
Unlike past memorial services for officers killed in the line of duty, Wednesday’s ceremony was held with COVID-19 prevention measures in place.
Gov. Gavin Newsom granted a waiver to the state’s tough shelter-in-place order to hold the mass memorial service. Newsom also met with the family before the service.
Rev. Rene Schalepfer welcomed the mourners and read messages from friends who remembered Gutzwiller throughout the service.
“You came here today to honor a great man,” Rev. Schalepfer said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart, who recruited Gutzwiller to the department when he was a young high school student, said the sacrifices of law enforcement officers prevented Carrillo from killing others.
“It was a bad call,” he said. “What the deputies and CHP did that day saved many, many lives.”
Hart said Gutzwiller represented the best of what a community policeman should be.
“We gather as a community and nation in pain — a pain that is on display in every street in this country,” he said. “There is hole in our hearts — a hole Damon will fill…We know Damon will be watching over us…He will have a lasting impact on our community and those of us who knew him…There is no magic words I can say, no tricks I can do to take the pain away…He was a good, good man.”
Gutzwiller, 38, left behind his wife, Faviola, who is expecting their second child this month. Their 2-year-old son Carter solemnly accepted his father’s badge from Hart during the memorial.
Local residents gathered by the hundreds at four public viewing points to pay their respects as the funeral procession made it way through the streets of Santa Cruz and surrounding communities. Dozens of law enforcement officers drove in their patrol vehicles with lights flashing in the procession.
Carrillo was in custody in Santa Cruz County jail for the special enhancement murder of Gutzwiller and the attempted murder of several other deputies in an ambush on June 6th in the mountain community of Ben Lomond. The charges carry with them the possibility of death sentence.
He was also charged by federal officials Tuesday in the shooting death of Federal Protective Service officer Dave Underwood, who was killed in a hail of gunfire during a night of George Floyd unrest on May 29 while he stood watch over Oakland’s federal building.
An armored vest discovered in a vehicle belonging to Carrillo contained a distinct patch and slogans scrolled in what is believed to be Carrillo’s blood on a vehicle carjacked during the Santa Cruz ambush linked the suspected gunman to the Boogaloo Movement — a right-wing extremist group that harbors a mistrust of law enforcement and government, and anticipates a second American Civil War, referred to as the “boogaloo.”
Santa Cruz Mountain Ambush
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- Fallen Santa Cruz County Deputy Remembered as Model of Community Law Enforcement
Investigators said the same white van was used in both slayings.
A 911 caller reported a suspicious white van with guns and explosives inside parked near Ben Lomond on June 6th. It was that report that brought Gutzwiller and deputy sheriff Alex Spencer, who was released from the hospital over the weekend, to Ben Lomond. They followed the van to a home on Waldeberg Road where they were attacked while walking up the driveway.
“Damon is the picture of community policing,” Hart said at a vigil held the day after the slaying. “He was kind, caring, patient, empathetic. He could take enforcement action when he needed to but he would rather communicate his way through any problem in front of him.”