Heartbroken mourners on Wednesday praised a Northern California sheriff’s deputy who was killed in an ambush, calling him kind, unflappable and funny — the kind of officer that people want to keep a community safe.
Hundreds of people, many in blue and green law enforcement uniforms, gathered at a college football field in the small town of Aptos for a public memorial for Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department.
Gov. Gavin Newsom gave organizers special permission to hold the memorial despite shelter in place orders aimed at battling the coronavirus pandemic.
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 Sheriff Jim Hart during the memorial.
Hart said Gutzwiller went into law enforcement because he loved where he lived and wanted to keep it safe. His death came at a time of massive protests across the country against police brutality against African Americans.
“If we follow Damon’s example, the world will see the best of us,” Hart said. “This duty, this responsibility is foundational to our service and gives every one of us a deep sense of pride to know that we’re also working to protect the community that we love.”
Mark Ramos, a retired deputy fire chief in Santa Cruz, said Gutzwiller was like a son to him, a good-natured man who was eager to meet the right woman and start a family. He was over the moon when he met his future wife, Ramos said.
“I miss you so much, you were a son to us and we will honor your life by loving your family,” he said. “’til we meet again.”
Gutzwiller died June 6 when he was ambushed at the Ben Lomond home of Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Carrillo while following up on a tip about a suspicious vehicle with guns and bomb-making devices inside.
Authorities say Carrillo had fatally shot a federal security officer and wounded his partner outside a U.S. courthouse on May 29 before killing Gutzwiller and wounding other officers in a hail of gunfire and explosives the following week.
Carrillo was charged Tuesday with murder in the killing of federal security officer Dave Patrick Underwood in Oakland and is expected to enter a plea to state charges next month in the Santa Cruz County case.
Prosecutors say Carrillo had ties to a far-right, anti-government movement.