Judge Rules Death by Immigrant Not a Valid Suit Against City of San Francisco

Negligence complaint can move forward

In 2015, Kathryn Steinle was murdered by Francisco Sanchez, a Mexican citizen and illegal immigrant who had been deported five times prior to killing Steinle.

Steinle was shot and killed while walking along San Francisco’s Pier 14.

“We have been and always will be a city of refuge, a city of sanctuary, a city of love…We promise to be a city that’s always welcoming. There are no walls in our city!” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, confirmed the city’s sanctuary status.

Following her death, Steinle’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the city of San Francisco.

A federal judge determined a city cannot be held responsible for the actions of an individual, even if that individual was released from the city’s custody, against the advisement of federal immigration officials:

San Francisco cannot be held liable for a slaying by a man who was in the country illegally and had been released by sheriff’s officials despite a request by immigration officials to keep him behind bars, a federal judge said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero dismissed wrongful death claims filed by the family of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle against the city and Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. The judge, however, allowed a negligence claim against the federal government to move forward.

The man charged with murder in the July 2015 slaying, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was a repeat drug offender who was transferred to the city jail to face a marijuana sales charge after he completed a federal prison sentence for illegally reentering the country. The district attorney dropped charges, and the sheriff’s department released Lopez-Sanchez three months before Steinle’s death, ignoring a request by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep him behind bars.

San Francisco’s so-called “sanctuary policy” bars city employees from cooperating with federal immigration officials in deportation efforts.

Mirkarimi cited the law in a 2015 memo to deputies that prohibited them from providing certain information to federal immigration authorities, including the date an inmate is released, according to Spero’s ruling. In their lawsuit, Steinle’s family cited a statement by immigration authorities that Lopez-Sanchez would have been deported and Steinle’s death prevented if sheriff’s officials had notified them about his pending release.

Spero said in his ruling on Friday that neither the state nor federal law cited in the lawsuit prevents the sheriff from restricting his deputies’ communications with immigration officials about an inmate’s release date.

Frank Pitre, an attorney for the Steinle family, said he was evaluating the best course forward.

San Francisco might get off scot-free, but Spero permitted the negligence claim to move forward. The gun used to murder Steinle was “carelessly” left in a vehicle by a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger and was then stolen. It was loaded when Sanchez found it, though it’s unclear if there’s evidence proving Sanchez stole the weapon:

But Spero said the parents may be able to prove that the federal government was at fault for Steinle’s death because its employee’s apparent carelessness led to the shooting.

“Leaving a gun loaded makes (its) capability for harm readily accessible in the same way as leaving the key in the ignition of a vehicle,” Spero said.

He cited past rulings by California courts allowing suits for harm caused by stolen vehicles that had been left unlocked, with the key inside, in high-crime neighborhoods. The gun used to shoot Steinle was stolen from the ranger’s car on a downtown San Francisco street.
Spero added, however, that the suit might be dismissed if there is no evidence that Lopez-Sanchez stole the gun. It’s not clear how California courts, whose rulings govern the negligence issue, would decide such a case, Spero said.

San Francisco who welcomes repeat felons is off the hook, but a ranger who left his weapon in the car is to blame? The world has truly gone mad.

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