Family members of Kate Steinle have filed a lawsuit against the former sheriff of San Francisco County, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Land Management. The suit alleges several mistakes by the agencies led to the young woman’s murder.
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican immigrant, killed 32-year-old Steinle along a waterfront pier in July 2015. Just a few months prior, the immigrant had been released from prison after serving a third sentence for felony reentry in the U.S. from Mexico.
Lopez-Sanchez claimed to have found a gun wrapped in a T-shirt under a bench on the pier. Kate Steinle was shot when the weapon was inadvertently discharged when he picked it up. The pistol had been stolen from a Bureau of Land Management employee’s vehicle just four days before.
The bullet went through the woman’s back and struck her heart while she was walking with her father. Her last words before she died were “help me,” according to court documents.
— CNN (@CNN) May 28, 2016
The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department had moved the immigrant from federal prison in Victorville to San Francisco for a court appearance related to a 20-year-old marijuana charge. However, prosecutors decided to drop the case.
The lawsuit says Lopez-Sanchez should have been in custody when Steinle was killed, but San Francisco’s sanctuary law allowed local officials to ignore a federal request to hold him. A 2013 city ordinance limits cooperation on federal detainers unless an inmate is charged with a violent felony and has a previous felony conviction.
“On March 27 (2015), when ICE received the automatic electronic notification indicating the subject had been booked into San Francisco County custody, our officers lodged an immigration detainer asking to be notified prior to his release,” ICE said in a statement. “That detainer was not honored.”
Additionally, San Francisco former sheriff Ross Mirkarimi sent out a memo in March 2015 ordering the restriction of communication with ICE in all cases. The Steinle family’s lawsuit alleges that memo violates a previous federal statute that requires local governments and officials to share citizenship and immigration status information with immigration enforcement agents.
“By prohibiting notification to ICE necessary for custody, detention, deportation and/or removal of undocumented convicted felons, the March memo deprived Kate of life and liberty without due process,” the lawsuit contends.
The attorney for Steinle’s family, Frank Pitre, said mistakes were made at “every level.” He said Lopez-Sanchez was able to get a handgun due to the negligence of a BLM agent and ICE did not properly pursue deportation of the immigrant.
In January, Lopez-Sanchez entered a not guilty plea to second-degree murder, as well as other charges related to Steinle’s death. Defense attorney Matt Gonzales said the charges are unwarranted since the shooting was accidental.
During a September hearing, ballistics experts testified the bullet first ricocheted off the concrete before hitting the woman. Gonzales argued that not even a professional sharpshooter could make a shot like that.
Prosecutors believe the charges are correct, but are prepared to refile with lesser charges should a judge ultimately dismiss the case.
San Francisco is one of several “Sanctuary Cities,” where local law enforcement limits collaboration and communication with federal immigration officials. The idea is supposed to encourage illegal immigrants to report crimes and cooperate as witnesses.
Just a few days ago, San Francisco Board of Supervisors decided to uphold the sanctuary protections for people in the U.S. illegally. They passed a measure that clarifies when city workers will notify ICE of the immigration status of a person, allowing the sheriff to decide when to swap information if the immigrant has committed certain types of felonies in the past.
The Kate Steinle lawsuit has reinvigorated the debate over sanctuary city policies. Many conservative critics and politicians are demanding the reversal of such policies or risk losing all federal funding.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]