Lawsuit Alleges Facebook Responsible for Extremist Group’s Murder of Federal Officer
By Keith Burbank
A wrongful death lawsuit against Facebook, which recently changed its name to Meta, was filed Thursday on behalf of the sister of a federal officer shot and killed in Oakland by an alleged member of an extremist group, attorneys for the woman said.
Federal Protective Service Officer Dave Underwood was allegedly shot by Steven Carrillo, an alleged extremist, on May 29, 2020, outside the federal courthouse in Oakland. That day, protests were taking place in the city over the death of George Floyd.
Underwood’s sister Angela Jacobs filed the suit in Alameda County Superior Court.
“We believe and intend to show that Facebook’s conduct has led to a rise in extremism throughout the world and acts of real-world violence, including the murder of Officer Underwood,” attorney Ted Leopold said in a statement. “It is time that Facebook is finally held accountable for its actions.”
Meta says the legal claim is baseless.
“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,” Meta spokesman Kevin McAlister said. “These claims are without legal basis.”
Jacobs’ attorneys allege that Meta allowed users to connect to extremist groups and promoted divisive, inflammatory, and untrue content, leading to the slaying of Underwood.
When he was shot, Underwood was providing security at the courthouse as protests were taking place over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Carrillo allegedly shot Underwood in a drive-by shooting while alleged accomplice Robert Justus Jr. was driving.
Jacobs’ attorneys allege that Carrillo and Justus identify as part of the Boogaloo movement. That movement aims to incite “a violent uprising against perceived government tyranny,” according to federal prosecutors.
Jacobs’ attorneys allege the shooting was not a random act. Rather, the two men allegedly hatched and planned it on Facebook after connecting in a Boogaloo Facebook group via the company’s algorithms.
Justus turned himself in at the FBI office in San Francisco on June 11, 2020. He allegedly admitted to driving the white van Carrillo shot out of to kill Underwood and injure a second officer.
Justus allegedly told investigators he met Carrillo on Facebook and the two arranged to meet earlier on May 29 to go to protests taking place in Oakland.
A federal complaint said Justus said he “did not want to participate in the murder, but that he felt that he had to participate because he was trapped in the van with Carrillo.”
However, the FBI obtained records from Carrillo’s Facebook account that showed him talking about the ongoing protests being “a great opportunity to target the specialty soup bois,” an apparent reference to federal agencies with various “alphabet soup” acronyms.
Justus responded with a comment “Lets boogie,” according to the complaint.
Jacobs’ attorneys also allege that by promoting inflammatory content and groups, users stay engaged and active on Facebook and that improves ad sales for the company.
Facebook in recent years has tried to increase membership in groups, Jacobs’ attorneys allege.
Also, the company knowingly did not warn its users of the role its algorithms play in enhancing extremist content, Jacobs’ attorneys say.
Or the effect that the content and groups, like the Boogaloo, have on promoting extremism, including violent extremism.
Jacobs is seeking all economic and non-economic damages available, including punitive damages.
Carrillo is also accused of killing Santa Cruz County sheriff’s Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller eight days after the shooting of Underwood.
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