Slain Santa Cruz County sergeant mourned as 'a giant among men'

Hundreds gathered at Cabrillo College in Aptos to honor the life of Santa Cruz Sheriff Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller.

Family, friends and members of law enforcement from all over the state shared stories about Gutzwiller who was fatally shot. Authorities say he was killed by a gunman with extreme right-wing views who also gunned down a federal security officer in Oakland days earlier. 

Gutzwiller grew up in Santa Cruz, attending Cabrillo College, where he started his law enforcement career. 

The 38-year-old is survived by his wife, Favi, who is expecting their second child this month. Their 2-year-old son Carter accepted his father's badge from Sheriff Jim Hart during the memorial. 

“Some things are too big, too beautiful to describe and a picture will never do it justice," said Favi, during an emotional tribute to her husband. "That’s how it is with Damon. I wish you all had the pleasure of knowing him.” 

"Some of us lost our best friend, some of us lost a fellow brother, Favi lost her soulmate, Carter and Baby Gutzwiller lost the man who would’ve wanted to be the best daddy," said former Santa Cruz deputy fire chief and Damon's friend, Mark Ramos. 

Gutzwiller was killed in the line of duty on June 6 in Ben Lomond. The 14-year veteran was responding to a report of a suspicious van with bomb-making materials. 

He and other deputies followed the vehicle to a home in Ben Lomond, and when they arrived, they came under attack with gunfire and improvised explosives.

A 32-year-old Air Force sergeant, Steven Carillo, was charged Tuesday for Gutzweiler's death, and wounding four others. The Department of Justice says that gunman was part of an extremist, right-wing group that targets law enforcement officers.

Those who knew the sergeant best spoke of his unshakable positivity and constant smile. They memorialized him as a committed and compassionate deputy: 

“He viewed his community as his family," said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart. "If you saw that, how he was with his family and his friends—you’d have seen a man singularly devoted to making those around him feel loved, feel special and feel safe.”

Hart said he was “a giant among men, and a dear, dear friend. And I will shrug and I will smile. Damon, I love you.”

He was also a devoted father and husband, mourners said.  “I can only hope our children will grow up to be just like their father: kind, loving, compassionate, honest, hard-working and all around wonderful people," said Favi. 

Due to the coronavirus, space at the service was limited. But, it did not stop the community from lining the procession route to pay their respects.  Gutzwiller's brothers and sisters in uniform vowed to care for his family and never let his kids forget what he meant to the community he loved, the community he died protecting.

"Be loyal, be honest, be Damon," said Santa Cruz Co. Sheriff Sgt. Chris Shearer. 

“I know I will carry him with me in our heart and through our children, forever," said Favi. 

The pastor presiding over the public service said he was inundated with messages from the community, wanting to share their thoughts about the sergeant. 

In the law enforcement tradition, the service ended with Sgt. Gutzwiller's "End of Watch" radio call: "End of watch: Saturday, June 6, 2020. May you rest in peace."