The lone suspect in the killing of a Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s officer June 6 is an active-duty Air Force sergeant who leads an elite security unit specially trained in anti-terrorism tactics, including automatic weapons, explosives and hand-to-hand combat.
Steven Carrillo is a local high school graduate who grew up in Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek and married his high school sweetheart. He is hospitalized in San Jose, recovering from a bullet wound in a shootout with police prior to his Saturday arrest near the fatal shootout at his Ben Lomond home.
The suspect is to be charged this week with the murder of Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller and numerous other charges after what Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart described as an “ambush” at Carrillo’s house on a dead-end mountaintop road overlooking Ben Lomond.
One other deputy suffered shrapnel wounds when, according to Hart, Carrillo tossed small bombs at the deputies’ car after unloading his automatic rifle at their vehicle, killing Gutzwiller. The second deputy, who has not been named, also was hit by Carrillo’s car as the man made a getaway Saturday afternoon.
Carrillo was later wounded in a run-in with a California Highway Patrol officer investigating a carjacking. The CHP officer was shot in the hand and Carrillo escaped again until he was arrested in Ben Lomond after being tackled and disarmed by a man whose car he was attempting to hijack in another vain escape attempt.
As of Sunday night, authorities still had not ruled out one or more other gunmen, even after calling off an hours-long manhunt Saturday in the neighborhoods and hills around Ben Lomond, with dogs, helicopters, hundreds of officers and dozens of vehicles from agencies from across the Central Coast and the Bay Area.
The FBI took over the investigation Sunday, as it explores possible connections between Carrillo’s bomb-filled white van and a similar white van caught on camera in Oakland from which were fired the shots in the May 29 drive-by shooting of Federal Protective Services Officer David Underwood and the wounding of a second officer.
Members of his Phoenix Raven unit with the 60th Security Forces Squadron based at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, near Sacramento, are among fewer than 200 Ravens nationwide “executing the Air Mobility Command’s force protection of strategic airlifts around the world,” according to the Air Force, which confirmed Carrillo’s assignment this weekend. The Raven teams function as “air marshals on the ground who deploy with aircrew members on missions designated by the AMC Threat Working Group.”
“Raven teams protect aircraft and their crews and cargo from criminal and terrorist threats while traveling through airfields where security is either unknown or inadequate,” the Air Force says on the Air Mobility Command website. “The intense qualification course ensures the select few who become Ravens are of an exceptional caliber.”
During his training, Carrillo’s prowess was highlighted in two training videos in 2018, showing him in hand-to-hand combat and in push-up strength training.
The Air Force security sergeant, however, was taken down and disarmed Saturday afternoon by a man whose car he was attempting to hijack and a neighbor’s pit bull barely 100 yards away from a police roadblock on Highway 9 just north of Ben Lomond.
In the Air Force’s intensely rigorous three-week Ravens qualification course, which it says few pass, “the candidates learn anti-terrorism and force protection, weapon system security, combative and tactical baton employment, advanced firearms proficiency and verbal judo, which is a communication tool designed to generate voluntary compliance,” according to Air Force documents about the Ravens force, which was created in 1997.
“They also learn cross-cultural awareness, legal considerations, embassy operations, airfield survey techniques, explosive ordnance awareness, aircraft searches and unarmed self-defense techniques,” the Air Force reported.
In one recruiting video, called the “House of Pain,” aspiring Ravens are put through grueling workouts, to a soundtrack produced by a company called Killer Tracks. The production company was recently renamed Universal Production Music.
Carrillo graduated from San Lorenzo Valley High School in 2006, the same year that Gutzwiller joined the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department.
At SLV, Carrillo met Monika Scott, known to all her friends as Nika, of Boulder Creek. The pair married in 2009, and both enlisted in the Air Force. They had two children. Nika Scott Carrillo’s life was cut short by her death, at age 30, in a motel near Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina. Her death was ruled a suicide.
The Peace Officers Research Association of California established a Line of Duty Death fund for the family of Sgt. Gutzwiller late Saturday. In less than 24 hours, the fund had raised more than $135,000 with a goal of $150,000.