Robert Alvin Justus Jr. faces life in prison if convicted
In court on Friday, a federal security officer shot during a social justice protest in late May 2020 described the attack as a complete surprise, leaving his body riddled with bullet holes and his partner dead just a few feet away.
He didn’t even hear the gunshots before he found himself bleeding on the ground.
“I just felt like I was getting hit and knocked down,” Sombat Mifkovic testified.”I called out to my partner, but he didn’t respond.”
The officer’s words highlighted the first day of testimony in the trial of Robert Alvin Justus Jr., a 33-year-old Millbrae man accused of assisting in Mifkovic’s shooting and the assassination of another Federal Protective Services security officer. Authorities believe it was all inspired by the far-right, anti-government Boogaloo movement, members of which have been known to post online about the start of a second American Civil War.
Justus is accused of aiding and abetting first-degree murder and attempted murder in federal court. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors claim Justus collaborated with another Bay Area resident, Steven Carrillo, to carry out the drive-by shooting that killed 53-year-old Federal Protective Services Officer Dave “Patrick” Underwood and severely injured Mifkovic.
Carrillo and Justus, according to FBI agents, traveled to Oakland with the sole intent of finding and killing police officers. However, in an interview with the agency, Justus claimed that he only intended to attend the protest and that Carrillo coerced him into the murder plot.
Carrillo was later apprehended in Santa Cruz County, where authorities claim he ambushed and killed Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller after the Underwood killing. He pleaded guilty to the murders of Underwood and Gutzwiller and was sentenced to 41 years in prison in June 2022.
The deadly drive-by shooting occurred in the midst of social justice protests and riots in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minnesota police officer in late May 2020. Security at the Oakland federal building had been beefed up in anticipation of the protests becoming chaotic that night, prompting several officers to patrol the grounds in pairs.
Mifkovic recalled being only 15 minutes away from being relieved by other officers at his post when bullets began flying at the guard tower outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building.
He claimed that the attack happened so quickly that he didn’t see who or where opened fire.
“When I was knocked down, I was lying on my back, looking up,” Mifkovic explained. “And I just saw the bullets hitting the guard shack glass.”
Mifkovic, who walked to the witness stand with a noticeable limp and cane, claimed the attack left him permanently disabled after being shot in the left shoulder, left femur, chin, and right arm.
Mifkovic claimed that after being shot, he immediately pointed his gun at the first person he saw and ordered them to raise their hands in case that person was the shooter.
Authorities quickly suspected that the attack was carried out by someone in a white van that drove by the guard shack. According to testimony from Charles Clemons, a Federal Protective Service investigator who was also on patrol elsewhere at the federal building that night, a white van had already drawn the suspicions of officers at the federal building 20 or 30 minutes before when a driver appeared to stop in front of the building and stare at officers.
Justus, who was dressed in a white button-up shirt and a long brown ponytail, was emotionless throughout the hearing, frequently lowering his head onto his folded hands as witnesses testified about the shooting.
According to court documents, Justus told FBI investigators in the days following the attack that he was an unwilling participant in the deadly shooting, having been unwittingly wrangled into the shooting plot and held against his will throughout the attack.
According to court documents, Justus recalled planning to catch a ride to the protests with Carrillo and, upon meeting at the San Leandro BART parking lot, watching in dismay as the situation deteriorated. According to Justus, Carrillo pulled back a homemade curtain inside the van, revealing body armor, multiple firearms, and Molotov cocktails. Carrillo allegedly announced plans to kill an AC Transit bus driver approaching their van moments later.
According to a transcript of his interview with FBI special agents in 2020, Justus stated, “I don’t like this, I am not cool with this.” According to his account, Carrillo responded by pulling an AR-15 rifle on Justus and demanding to know if he was “a cop or a rat.”
The alleged threat made Justus believe “that I am going to f—ing die,” he told investigators.
Justus previously told federal investigators that he met Carrillo through a Boogaloo-related Facebook group called “/K/alifornia Kommando,” which has since been closed down.
The two appeared to have little in common aside from their interest in the Boogaloo movement, a loosely-based anti-government movement whose supporters were spotted at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurgency on Capitol Hill, as well as being linked to numerous other acts of violence across the country.
Just hours into the case, the judge, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, expressed concern about dismissing two jurors so early in the proceedings.
One juror was dismissed after claiming to be ill. Another was dismissed Friday morning after informing the judge that he had forgotten to mention during jury selection that he had driven near the scene of the shooting and nearly been overtaken by a mob of protesters that night while driving home.
There are only two options left for the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.
“The sentence in this case is mandatory life in prison – if it takes two weeks, it takes two weeks,” Gonzalez Rogers explained.