Lawsuit: Sister of slain Oakland federal officer claims Facebook encouraged alleged killers

On the night of May 28, 2020, the streets of downtown Oakland were packed with people protesting the death of George Floyd when David Patrick Underwood was shot and killed while protecting a federal building, by someone using the demonstration as cover to carry out the crime.

Underwood's sister, Angela Underwood Jacobs filed a wrongful death suit against Facebook, now known as Meta, claiming the social media company radicalized the alleged shooter.The key suspect, Steven Carrillo, met alleged his accomplice, Millbrae resident Robert Alvin Justus Junior, on a Facebook group.

The suit alleges that Facebook kept Carrillo engaged on the platform by using its algorithm to feed into his echo chamber with inflammatory content and spoon-feeding him information on extremist groups, a move that critics say keeps users engaged and in turn drives-up ad sales.

"Facebook is much more than just a landing spot, a bulletin board if you will, or just a platform," said Theodore J. Leopold of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, who is Jacobs’ Attorney. "These two gentlemen in particular would not have garnered that relationship but for Facebook’s inferred judgments that they have used to bring these people together."

The legal complaint also cites Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen, who testified before Congress in October 2021 that the social media giant knowingly promotes harmful content through its algorithms.

But David Levine, a professor at UC Hastings College of Law, believes Facebook is protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which says platforms are not publishers of the content posted on their sites.

"You have to show that Facebook didn’t just know that far-right groups found it useful to use their platforms or that the algorithms lead people to the views of those groups, that’s just not close," Levine said.

Also watching the suit closely is David Greene with Electronic Frontier Foundation who said Facebook is protected under free speech.

"The courts have found that merely know that people are using your site for these things isn’t enough," said Green.

In response to the lawsuit, Facebook spokesperson Kevin McAlister said, "We’ve banned more than 1,000 militarized social movements from our platform...and work closely with experts to address the broader issue of internet radicalization.

Carrillo, a U.S. Air Force sergeant, pleaded not guilty to shooting and killing Underwood.

He’s also accused of killing a Santa Cruz sheriff’s Deputy Damon Gutzwiller several days after Underwood’s death.