Four Northern California men suspected of colluding with a left-wing activist "Grizzly" are accused of destroying evidence in a state investigation into the killing of two police officers, prosecutors said on Friday.
Jessie Alexander Rush, 29, of Turlock; Robert Jesus Blancas, 33, no home town given; Simon Sage Ybarra, 23, of Los Gatos; and Kenny Matthew Miksch, 21, of San Lorenzo, are facing a March 23 charge of conspiracy to damage records, vandalism and prevention of legal cases, the U.S. Attorney General's Office in San Francisco said.
Blancas is also facing a separate lawsuit, filed on November 20, accusing him of luring a young girl into having sex.
It was not immediately clear who represented the defendants in court. Candis Mitchell, North California's chief public defender, declined to comment.
Government officials say the four men have contacted the US Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Carrillo, 32, on June 6 when he attacked deputies at the Sheriff's Office in Santa Cruz County, killed one of them.
The officers were stationed in the city of Ben Lomond to check on a suspicious white van later linked to the May 29 beating of police officer Dave Patrick Underwood, 53, during George Floyd's protests outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in Oakland.
Carrillo is a defendant in the case, and has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
"Dudes is offed fed," Carrillo officials told the men on WhatsApp minutes before Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, 38, was shot dead, according to a statement from a U.S. attorney.
Prosecutors referred to the four men as "Grizzly Scouts," or members of a small group of men in Northern California related to the "boogaloos" an independent, anti-government group that promotes violence against free politicians and lawmakers.
Investigators said Carrillo asked the men to wait for police as they rushed to the scene of the shooting.
"Get out of here," Carrillo said, referring to the case. "There is only one road in / out. Get out when he comes in ... The police are here fkr me ... Waiting to make sure I listen to them."
Prosecutors said Rush "immediately" told Carrillo to "reset the factory" to his cell phone, with allegations that he would destroy the documents as evidence. The four eventually deleted any WhatsApp group record from their phones, the U.S. Attorney General's Office said. in a statement.
Blancas also deleted 20 files from Dropbox account, the defendants said. "Almost everything was in line with the Grizzly Scouts," said the U.S. Attorney's Office. "Deleted files related to Grizzly Scouts immediately include, for example, files related to Grizzly Scouts formation."
Government officials called the "Grizzly Scouts" young soldiers "who linked to the Facebook group" and "discussed the perpetrators of cyber-violence using WhatsApp and other messaging programs."
"They say the west will not play," someone wrote on the club's Facebook page, according to prosecutors, referring to Boogaloo.
"It was here that they came together as intellectual Californians who could connect and form local teams," the message said on social media, according to the lawsuit.
Brian Levin. director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said the defendants appeared to be mimicking the state of domestic terrorism in the U.S.
"We have a network of Boogaloo defendants on the far right who have similar types on social media," he said. "In the diverse sector, small, underground groups are among the most dangerous threats."
Each of the accused faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Blankstein reported from Los Angeles with Romero from San Diego.