The sister of a slain federal security officer has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Facebook owner Meta. The lawsuit alleges that the killing of Dave Patrick Underwood in May 2020 “was not a random act of violence” but rather “the culmination of an extremist plot hatched and planned on Facebook by two men who Meta connected through Facebook’s groups infrastructure and its use of algorithms designed and intended to increase user engagement and, correspondingly, Meta’s profits.”
The lawsuit says that Meta “helped build” the antigovernment “boogaloo” community, which includes white supremacists, militia promoters, and far-right conspiracy theorists. This community “supported [the] criminal planning” of Underwood’s murderer and his accomplice, the complaint says, accusing Facebook of negligence.
The lawsuit was filed yesterday by Angela Underwood Jacobs in California Superior Court for Alameda County, and it seeks damages of at least $25,000. The lawsuit notes that Dave Underwood “was a Federal Protective Services Officer working under a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to provide security” at a federal building and courthouse in Oakland. On May 29, 2020, during protests over the police killing of George Floyd, the 53-year-old Underwood was stationed in a guard post outside the building and was killed in a drive-by shooting. He was shot in the neck and right flank and endured “extreme pain and suffering” before dying in the emergency room, the lawsuit said.
Weeks after the shooting, the Department of Justice announced a murder charge against alleged gunman Steven Carrillo and an attempted murder charge for injuries to a second security officer. The DOJ also announced aiding and abetting charges against Robert Alvin Justus Jr., the alleged driver of the vehicle. A jury trial in the criminal case is scheduled for November 2022.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the “boogalooers’ anti-police beliefs prompted them to participate widely in the Black Lives Matters protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020.”
Lawsuit: Facebook suggestions led Justus to boogaloo
The civil suit filed by Jacobs alleges that “Meta led Justus down a road toward extremism, recommending, among other things, that he join boogaloo-related groups, including the group that introduced him to Carrillo, where members conspired to commit acts of violence against federal law enforcement officers under the cover of the protests taking place in response to the police killing of George Floyd… Carrillo and Justus only met on Facebook because Meta recommended that Justus join groups dedicated to promoting the boogaloo movement.”
Facebook recommended boogaloo groups to Justus after he “explored fathers’ rights and Second Amendment rights on Facebook,” the lawsuit said.
“Meta’s negligent conduct was a substantial factor in Carrillo and Justus meeting on Facebook, planning on Facebook to carry out acts of violence against federal law enforcement officers, and then carrying out their plan by meeting on May 29, 2020 and killing Officer Underwood in a drive-by shooting,” the lawsuit said. A press release from Jacobs’ law firm said that “Facebook had previously acknowledged the need to ban the dangerous network from its platform but reportedly did not remove the majority of the boogaloo groups.”
When contacted by Ars about the lawsuit today, Meta 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. These claims are without legal basis.”