In courtroom testimony Friday that left him choking back tears, a federal security officer shot during a social justice protest in late May 2020 described the attack as a complete surprise – one that left his body riddled with bullet holes and his partner lying dead just a few feet away.
He didn’t even hear the gunshots before finding himself lying on the ground and bleeding.
“I just felt getting hit, and getting knocked down,” Sombat Mifkovic recalled from the witness stand.“I called out to my partner and he was not responsive.”
The officer’s words highlighted the opening day of testimony in the trial of Robert Alvin Justus Jr., a 33-year-old Millbrae man accused of helping in the shooting of Mifkovic and the assassination of another Federal Protective Services security officer. Authorities suspect it was all inspired by the far-right, anti-government Boogaloo movement, whose members are known to post online about an impending start of a second American Civil War.
Justus faces federal charges of aiding and abetting first-degree murder, as well as aiding and abetting attempted murder. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.
Prosecutors allege Justus joined forces with another Bay Area man, Steven Carrillo, to carry out the drive-by shooting that left 53-year-old Federal Protective Services Officer Dave “Patrick” Underwood dead and Mifkovic severely wounded.
FBI agents suspect Carrillo and Justus traveled to Oakland with the sole intention of finding and killing police officers. In an interview with the agency, however, Justus claimed that he simply planned to attend the protest, and that Carrillo strong-armed him into the murder plot.
Carrillo was later apprehended in Santa Cruz County, where authorities say he ambushed police officers there and killed Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller following the Underwood killing. He pleaded guilty to murdering Underwood and Gutzwiller and was sentenced in June 2022 to 41 years in prison.
The deadly drive-by shooting happened during the height of social justice protests and riots that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota police officer in late May 2020. Security officials at the Oakland federal building had beefed up security in anticipation of protests turning chaotic that night – leading several officers to patrol the grounds in pairs.
Mifkovic recalled being just 15 minutes from being relieved by other officers at his post when, seemingly out of nowhere, bullets started flying at the guard tower outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building.
He said the attack happened so quickly that he didn’t see who opened fire, or from where.
“When I was knocked down, I was on my back, looking up,” Mifkovic said. “And I just saw the bullets hitting the guard shack glass.”
Mifkovic, who walked to the witness stand with a noticeable limp and cane, said he was left permanently disabled by the attack after being shot in his left shoulder, left femur, chin and right arm.
After being shot, Mifkovic said he immediately pointed his gun at the first person he could see and ordered them to raise their hands, in case that person was the shooter.
Authorities soon suspected that someone in a white van that drove by the guard shack carried out the attack. A white van had already drawn the suspicions of officers at the federal building 20 or 30 minutes beforehand, when a driver appeared to stop in front of the building and stare at officers, according to testimony from Charles Clemons, a Federal Protective Service investigator who also was on patrol elsewhere at the federal building that night.
Justus, who was dressed in a white button-up shirt with a long brown ponytail, showed little emotion throughout the hearing – often lowering his head onto his folded hands as witnesses testified about the shooting.
In the days after the attack, Justus told FBI investigators 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 took a turn for the worse, court documents show. Justus told investigators that Carrillo pulled back a homemade curtain inside the van to reveal body armor, multiple firearms and Molotov cocktails. Moments later, Carrillo allegedly announced plans to kill an AC Transit bus driver approaching their van.
“I don’t like this, I am not cool with this,” Justus said he told Carrillo, according to a transcript of his interview with FBI special agents in 2020. By his telling, the remark prompted Carrillo to pull an AR-15 rifle at Justus while demanding to know if he was “a cop or a rat.”
The alleged threat left him feeling “that I am going to f—ing die,” Justus told investigators.
Justus previously told federal investigators that he met Carrillo through a Facebook group for Boogaloo followers called “/K/alifornia Kommando,” which has since been shut down.
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The two appeared to have little in common besides their interest in the Boogaloo movement – a loosely-based anti-government movement whose followers were spotted at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection on Capitol Hill, while being linked to numerous other acts of violence across the country.
Just hours into testimony, the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, voiced concerns about having already dismissed two jurors so early in the proceedings.
One juror was dismissed after reporting feeling ill. Another was dismissed Friday morning after alerting the judge that he had forgotten to mention during jury selection that he had actually driven near the scene of the shooting and had his car nearly overtaken by a mob of protesters that night while driving home.
Only two alternatives remain for the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.
“The sentence in this case is mandatory life – if it takes two more weeks, it takes two more weeks,” Gonzalez Rogers said.