Kate Steinle killing: Family files wrongful-death suit against feds, San Francisco

May 27, 2016
San Jose Mercury News

The family of Kate Steinle, whose shooting death last year on Pier 14 at the hands of an illegal immigrant sparked a national uproar over immigration policy, has filed a lawsuit against the federal government, the city of San Francisco and its controversial former sheriff that alleges their negligence led to the shooting.

But it appears the family faces an uphill legal battle because it's generally difficult to sue government agencies and officials.

The wrongful-death suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, seeks unspecified damages for Steinle's death. The city and county of San Francisco and former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi are named as defendants based on the plaintiffs' claim that the city's sanctuary policy allowed shooter Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant, to go free without notifying immigration authorities seeking to keep him in custody.

The federal Bureau of Land Management is named because the gun used to kill Steinle was reportedly stolen from the unsecured car of a ranger with the agency, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is named for its purported failure to effectively deport Lopez-Sanchez and keep him from illegally entering the country five times. Lopez-Sanchez is also a named defendant.

"We believe that what happened here is merely a symptom of a much wider problem of law enforcement agencies failing to account for the weapons that are issued to their personnel," family attorney Frank Pitre said in an interview. "We have learned of instances where law enforcement personnel have lost weapons, or had their weapons stolen, and they merely go out and buy a replacement weapon. So they never report that their gun has been lost or stolen."

Pitre said BLM has refused to identify the agent whose gun was used in the shooting, or to provide any information about the agency's investigation of the incident.

Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the San Francisco city attorney's office, expressed sympathy for the Steinle family, but added: "In a civil lawsuit like this one, the issue is whether the government and its taxpayers can be held liable for the actions of a criminal. And under well established case law, they cannot. The law doesn't allow claims against government entities and officials based on criminal conduct by third parties. There are very narrow exceptions, but none of those exceptions are in play here."

ICE spokeswoman Lori K. Haley said "As a matter of policy ... ICE doesn't comment on pending litigation." But she said the agency Director Sarah Saldana met with the Steinle family last year to "express the agency's profound sympathy for their loss.''

Steinle, who had lived in Pleasanton resident, was walking on Pier 14 when she was shot in the back July 1. As she collapsed into her father's arms, Jim Steinle said, her dying words were: "Help me, Daddy."... (To read the entire complaint, please click HERE)