Kathryn Steinle’s parents sue over daughter’s SF slaying

May 27, 2016
San Francisco Chronicle

The parents of a woman who was shot to death on a San Francisco pier last year sued former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, the city and federal officials on Friday, saying the gunman would have been kept in custody, disarmed and deported if they’d done their jobs.

The federal court suit by Kathryn Steinle’s parents said Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican immigrant who has admitted firing the fatal shot, was freed from jail weeks before Steinle was killed because of blunders by both Mirkarimi and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Lopez-Sanchez, deported five times in the past, had just spent 46 months in federal prison for illegal re-entry when federal officials turned him over to San Francisco in March 2015 to face an old marijuana charge. City prosecutors dropped the charge, and Mirkarimi’s office released Lopez-Sanchez in April 2015, disregarding federal agents’ request to return him. The sheriff, relying on his interpretation of San Francisco’s sanctuary-city law, had prohibited his deputies from cooperating with immigration officials’ orders to hold immigrants for possible deportation.

Steinle, 32, was killed on the evening of July 1 as she walked with her father along Pier 14. Lopez-Sanchez, charged with murder, has maintained the shooting was an accident, citing evidence that the bullet bounced off the pavement before striking Steinle.

The lawsuit by James Steinle and his wife, Elizabeth Sullivan, of Livermore, said Mirkarimi’s policy violated both city and state law, citing Mayor Ed Lee’s statement after the shooting that the sanctuary ordinance did not prohibit the sheriff’s office from communicating with federal law enforcement officials. In addition, the suit said, federal law prohibited local governments from restricting communications with immigration officials about detainees’ immigration status.

The suit also faulted ICE, the federal immigration agency, saying its officials were aware of Mirkarimi’s policy and knew he would refuse to honor immigration holds.

The agency said Friday that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, not ICE, transferred Lopez-Sanchez to San Francisco custody, but said ICE had asked the sheriff’s office to be notified before he was released.

After the shooting, ICE said its director, Sarah Saldaña, had met with the Steinle family to express sympathy and to “assert the agency’s continued commitment to working cooperatively with law enforcement in California and nationwide to promote our shared goals of protecting communities and upholding public safety.”

The family also said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had failed to train its employees to keep their weapons secure. The gun that killed Steinle had been stolen four days earlier from an agent who had left it in a backpack in plain view on the back seat of his car. The agent should have known it could have been stolen and used in a crime, “especially in a dense, highly populated location with a high rate of auto break-ins,” the suit said.

Lopez-Sanchez has said he found the gun, and he has not been accused of stealing it.

Mirkarimi, the city, and the two federal agencies are responsible for providing “the means and opportunity for a repeat drug felon to secure a gun and kill Kate,” the family said in a statement.

"The Steinle Family hopes that their actions today will serve to highlight the lax enforcement of gun safety regulations among the law enforcement agencies involved and bureaucratic confusion so that this will not happen to others," said Frank Pitre, the family’s lawyer.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Steinle’s killing ignited a furious debate over local immigration policies and was cited by congressional Republicans in unsuccessful efforts to prohibit city sanctuary laws, which allow police to ignore federal agencies’ orders to turn over any unauthorized immigrants in local custody. Supporters of the local laws say the policies encourage immigrants to cooperate with police without fear of being jailed and deported.

The case also contributed to Mirkarimi’s re-election defeat last November by Vicki Hennessy, who promised a more flexible policy of cooperating with immigration officials. This week, city supervisors and Hennessy agreed on an ordinance allowing the sheriff to contact immigration officers before releasing an unauthorized immigrant who has a record that includes a serious or violent felony, or multiple lesser felonies in recent years — standards that would not have fit Lopez-Sanchez, who had no history of violent crime. The measure awaits Lee’s approval... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)