“We’re here not only for Kate, to keep her memory alive, but to have something done,” a shellshocked James Steinle pronounced at a Tuesday news conference on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. On July 1, Steinle, his daughter, Kate, and a friend were taking an evening stroll on Pier 14. Kate Steinle, 32, took a selfie. Moments later, a bullet pierced her aorta. She died in a hospital. The San Francisco district attorney charged an immigrant who was here illegally and who had seven felony convictions and five prior deportations with first-degree murder. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who was free because the San Francisco sheriff had refused to honor a federal deportation request, has pleaded not guilty. This is a crime that never should have happened.
So flanked by his wife, Liz Sullivan, their son, Brad, and a cluster of lawyers, Steinle announced legal action against San Francisco and federal agencies in an effort to squeeze something positive out of what is every parent’s nightmare. Government officials screwed up, and no one seems eager to correct the mistakes. Said Steinle, “The silence has been deafening.”
It started with a gun. In a departure from standard law enforcement practices, a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger left a loaded .40-caliber service gun unsecured in his car in San Francisco. The gun was stolen — and later used to kill Kate Steinle. Did Steinle’s death serve as a wake-up call? Not at all. Even after the much-publicized shooting, James Steinle observed, there have been two instances of guns stolen because law enforcement officers failed to secure their weapons. It happened in August, when University of California, Berkeley police Chief Margo Bennett left her gun in her car as she went jogging. Days later, thieves stole a Hayward, California, police officer’s Sig Sauer P239 handgun from his car in Oakland.
In papers filed by a legal team headed by attorney Frank Pitre, the Steinles say the BLM ranger “failed to exercise his mandatory duty to leave his firearm unloaded at a time when it was not actually needed.” As a result, “Lopez-Sanchez was allowed to gain access to a loaded weapon that he later used to kill Kate.”
In July, James Steinle went after San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy. He testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that he believed that his daughter died “by the hand of a person that should have never been on the streets of this country.”
For his part and to the contrary, Pitre defended San Francisco’s sanctuary city rules and said they were “never designed to protect” the likes of Lopez-Sanchez. The Steinle claim actually lauds San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee for “courageously” faulting Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi for not notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement before releasing Lopez-Sanchez.
Let me back up a few steps. In 1985, then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein signed San Francisco’s first sanctuary city ordinance, designed to protect refugees from Central America. Over the years, City Hall expanded the policy. In 2013, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed and Lee signed the Due Process for All Ordinance, which directed local law enforcement not to detain individuals based on an ICE detainer request — unless an individual has been convicted of a violent felony in the past seven years or there is a judge’s finding of probable cause.
Now the mayor claims that the ordinance, which challenges the constitutionality of ICE detainers, does not preclude law enforcement from alerting ICE before an inmate’s pending release. In essence, Lee is arguing that the law never prevented law enforcers from communicating with ICE. (On July 21, Supervisor Mark Farrell introduced a reform package that would give law enforcement more discretion in dealing with ICE and require the sheriff to check with the district attorney’s office before pursuing an outstanding bench warrant. Aide Jess Montejano expects a vote later this month.)
This is where Mirkarimi stepped into it. Like many City Hall progressives, he is hostile to immigration enforcement. In March, he wrote a memo directing personnel to refrain from sharing information with ICE absent a court order and an OK from department attorneys. Pitre and Lee have grounds to fault the sheriff for doubling down on the 2013 ordinance.
Mirkarimi maintains that the feds knew that if they want to deport an inmate like Lopez-Sanchez, they have to produce additional documentation. The sheriff blames ICE for not making him hand over the Mexican national. The legal claim asserts that ICE was aware of San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city and that therefore ICE should have presented the sheriff with “a judicial warrant or order for deportation.” That’s right; Pitre made the same argument as Mirkarimi.
Asked whether she wants San Francisco to change its sanctuary city policy, Steinle’s mother answered that she wants to end it, but only for violent offenders. Sullivan is in a lot of pain. Someone needs to tell her that according to the family’s legal briefs, Lopez-Sanchez has a string of heroin and other drug convictions to his name during his 20-plus years in the criminal justice system but no conviction for a violent offense. Thus, City Hall’s 2013 ordinance sees Lopez-Sanchez as worthy of protection from ICE. This policy invites preventable crime. What city wants to shield a seven-time loser from deportation?
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