Parents of SF Shooting Victim File Legal Claims Against City, Feds

September 1, 2015
Courthouse News

The parents of a young woman who was shot and killed by an illegal immigrant as she walked along San Francisco's waterfront have filed legal claims against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and federal officials.

At a press conference Tuesday on the steps of City Hall, James and Elizabeth Steinle said they were tired of inaction and bickering between the sheriff's office and Immigration & Customs Enforcement over who was responsible for allowing Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez to be out walking the streets the day he shot their daughter Kate, 32, for no apparent reason.

"If you think this can't happen to you, think again," James Steinle said. "Walking down the pier, arm in arm with my daughter and a close friend. She stops, takes a selfie, she turns around and is shot. As she fell she said 'Help me, Daddy.' That's my bedtime story, every night. If you want it to be your bedtime story every night, then do nothing."

Lopez-Sanchez, a 45 year-old violent felon who was in the United States illegally, had been deported five times since 1994, according to documents provided by the Steinle's attorney Frank Pitre with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. He also had an extensive criminal history dating back to 1993 when he was convicted of felony heroin possession.

Lopez-Sanchez had just finished a 46-month sentence at Victorville federal prison in March and was released to the custody of the San Francisco Sheriff's Department on March 26, 2015 on an outstanding warrant for the felony sale of marijuana.

The San Francisco District Attorney dropped the charges on March 27, and that same day, ICE asked the sheriff's department for notice regarding Lopez-Sanchez's release so it could initiate deportation proceedings.

On July 1, Lopez-Sanchez picked up a gun, later found to have been stolen from the car of a ranger for the Bureau of Land Management, and shot Kate Steinle as she and her father walked along Pier 14 in San Francisco. Lopez-Sanchez has maintained that the shooting was an accident.

His voice choked with emotion, her brother Brad said, "We're here to make sure that a change is made so nobody has to endure the pain my mom and dad and I go through on a daily basis. No one has taken responsibility and nothing has changed. You could come to San Francisco next week, be walking with your daughter or son and in a moment they can be taken from you. The failure to respond and make any changes says to me that what happened to Kate was okay, that she was collateral damage, that she didn't matter and that nothing will be done to change this in the future."

Attorney Pitre said the family's legal claims are intended "to ensure that no family has to endure what they've endured."

The tragedy, he said, was completely foreseeable given Lopez-Sanchez's history. "It was not only foreseeable, it was predictable," Pitre said. "In today's day and age, given statistics, given this man's history of 22 years, being involved in heroin, acting erratically and unpredictably and in particular what we know about him on that day, when he's out spinning around in a chair talking to himself."

In February, Mirkarimi issued an order prohibiting anyone in his department from cooperating with ICE.

After Steinle's death, ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said, "[i]f the local authorities had merely notified [ICE] that they were about to release this individual into the community, ICE could have taken custody of him and had him removed from the country-- thus preventing this terrible tragedy."

"Who in their right mind would let a seven-year, undocumented violent felon loose on the streets where you people and I are standing? It's frightening for us to think about," James Steinle said, adding that the silence from federal and local officials has been deafening. "Are they living under a rock, don't they understand what's going on? Somewhere there's a miscommunication and that cost the death of our daughter. We waited and waited to get some satisfaction in what caused Kate's death and who's going to take responsibility and that hasn't happened."

Mayor Ed Lee told reporters on July 6 that "a simple phone call from the sheriff" may have prevented the shooting.

But Mirkarimi blamed ICE for failing to issue a judicial demand or warrant for deportation.

"What we have are two people who are blaming one another and no one stepping up to take accountability," Pitre said Tuesday.

Moreover, Pitre said, San Francisco's "Sanctuary City" ordinance would not have prevented Mirkarimi from alerting authorities to Lopez-Sanchez's release.

"The Sanctuary City law was never designed to provide a safe harbor for repeat felons," Pitre said. "It was designed and created to try to protect innocent, undocumented people who are here to report crimes. There is a clear federal law that states what has to be done. You don't appoint yourself the legislator as Sheriff Mirkarimi did, and issue orders that contravene law. It's that simple."

Pitre was referring to the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, along with California Health and Safety Code.

The family's third claim, against the Bureau of Land Management, argues that the .40 caliber Sig Sauer handgun would never have been stolen had the ranger it belonged to not kept it in plain sight, in a backpack in his vehicle.

BLM Rangers are required to keep their guns unloaded and secured in lockable gun cases when not in use... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)