Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller
(Via Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office)
Civic Life

Four members of Ben Lomond militia group plead guilty to obstruction in 2020 mountain shootout

Four members of the Ben Lomond militia group “Grizzly Scouts” have pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for destroying evidence related to the 2020 mountain shootout that killed Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. One defendant also pleaded guilty to enticing a 15-year-old into producing child pornography.

Four members of the Ben Lomond militia group “Grizzly Scouts” pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice by destroying evidence in the 2020 mountain shootout that killed Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Federal authorities accused Jessie Rush, 29, of Turlock, 33-year-old Bay Area transient Robert Blancas, 23-year-old Simon Ybarra of Los Gatos and Kenny Miksch, 21, of San Lorenzo of destroying evidence related to a May 29, 2020, attack at the federal courthouse in Oakland and one a few days later in Ben Lomond. The Oakland shootout resulted in the death of one federal officer and the injury of another, while the one in Santa Cruz County caused the death of Gutzwiller and the injury of several other deputies.

Grizzly Scout Steven Carillo, 23, faces 19 charges in those attacks and will head to trial on Oct. 4 after pleading not guilty.

Federal prosecutors said the men admitted to forming the militia group “1st Detachment, 1st California Grizzly Scouts” in April 2020 after meeting on a Facebook group connected to the “boogaloo” movement. The term is used by some extremists as a reference to an impending politically motivated civil war or uprising against the government. The “boogaloo” movement is not a single cohesive group.

According to the plea agreements, Rush named himself the commanding officer and assumed the rank of “Major,” Blancas assumed the rank of “1st Lieutenant” with responsibilities for the group’s security and intelligence, Ybarra received the rank of “Corporal” and handled recruitment and Miksch received the rank of “1st Lieutenant” with responsibilities for the group’s training and firearms instruction.

The men said after they learned Carillo was involved in the Oakland shooting, they reached out to him, communicating with him during the June 6, 2020, shootout with Santa Cruz Sheriff’s deputies in the San Lorenzo Valley.

According to their plea agreements, Carillo asked the other group members to come to his aid and wrote, “Dudes i offed a fed.” Rush said he instructed Carillo to delete his cellphone data and told him to get out of the area.

Rush, Blancas, Ybarra, and Miksch all admitted to conspiring with other group members to destroy the records of their conversations with Carillo. Officials said Blancas also admitted to destroying files on Dropbox that consisted of the group’s rank structure, a non-disclosure agreement requiring members to maintain confidentiality of group materials, a liability release waiver, descriptions of the Grizzly Scouts uniforms, and a scorecard assessing the skills of Grizzly Scouts members in combat, firearms, medical, and other training.

On Aug. 23, Blancas pleaded guilty to three counts of obstruction of justice. He also pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge of enticing a 1`5-year-old girl to produce 77 pornographic photos and 31 videos of herself, all while exchanging thousands of messages with her and speaking to her via audio and video calls. He will be sentenced on Dec. 6.

Rush and Ybarra pleaded guilty on Sept. 13 and Miksch pleaded guilty on Monday — all to one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice by destroying records. Rush will be sentenced on Jan. 10, 2022, and Ybarra and Miksch will be sentenced on Feb. 7, 2022.

All four men face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Blancas also faces an additional penalty of 10 years to life in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for enticing a minor.