Media loses sight of the facts in SF homicide suspect coverage

Father Cameron Faller of Restorative Justice Ministry drops holy water during a vigil for Kathryn Steinle, Monday, July 6, 2015, on Pier 14 in San Francisco. Steinle was gunned down while out for an evening stroll at Pier 14 with her father and a family friend on Wednesday, July 1. (AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach)
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The story of an undocumented Mexican immigrant who allegedly shot and killed Kathryn Steinle on Pier 14 last week is now a national firestorm.

Almost immediately after ABC’s local affiliate aired a bizarre jailhouse interview with suspect Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the right-wing political clown car started heaping hate on immigrants, using Steinle’s death as proof that sanctuary city policies are misguided. Such policies are meant to protect nonviolent immigrants from unlawful detentions and deportation. More than 300 U.S. cities have sanctuary guidelines.

Conservatives also were quick to blame San Francisco’s lefty, pinko-commie ways for Steinle’s death.

“What you have is the narrative of the criminal illegal alien who just killed somebody,” Jose Antonio Vargas told me Monday. Vargas is the journalist and undocumented immigrant advocate who gained national fame after revealing his immigration status (undocumented) in a 2011 New York Times essay.

Vargas is a well-known national leader on immigration issues.

“This whole thing is a tragedy,” Vargas said. “This is why facts matter.”

The first misstep in the media coverage of Lopez-Sanchez was a doozy. The jailhouse interview quickly became national news, even though what aired was largely paraphrased snippets of a nearly hourlong conversation with a man who barely understands English.

“Suspect confesses to crime,” screams part of one ABC headline. “Suspect admits to shooting woman,” reads another, from the New York Daily News.

I challenge readers to actually watch the Cornell Barnard interview with Sanchez — which, to its credit, ABC7 did post in its entirety online. What you will see is a man who offers contradictory answers — saying yes at one point and no minutes later to the same question — and judge for yourself whether it was a genuine confession or a genuinely confused man offering answers he is led into by the reporter.

Here’s one contradictory excerpt:

Barnard: “You might have told police you were shooting at sea lions or a seal. Do you remember saying that? Did you tell police that?”

Lopez-Sanchez: “No, I do not remember.”

Spanish translator (unidentified), in Spanish: “In your testimony to the police you said you were trying to kill seals. Is that correct, or is that … not correct?”

Lopez-Sanchez, in Spanish: “Yes, that’s correct.”

Spanish-speaking staff at the San Francisco Examiner noted that Sanchez’s answers in Spanish were more nuanced than his answers in English, the latter of which were repeated in many national news stories. His answers also change depending on which language he is speaking.

Angela Chan, senior staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, said Lopez-Sanchez “seems troubled. It calls into question what in his interview is accurate.”

Influential interview aside, unanswered questions surround the national narrative, Chan said. For instance, many news stories cite Lopez-Sanchez’s felonies as proof that San Francisco committed a major sin by releasing him and not informing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (per the sanctuary policy). But as far as we know from authorities, his felonies were for nonviolent offenses.

ICE spent Monday blasting San Francisco authorities for not notifying the federal agency when Lopez-Sanchez was released. Yet Chan noted that the Sheriff’s Department, which runs County Jail, had no reason to do so.

A 2014 federal ruling determined a county in Oregon violated the Fourth Amendment after holding an inmate past their release for ICE. Translation: Had San Francisco held Lopez-Sanchez for ICE, it could have been sued.

Chan said, “If ICE wanted to detain Mr. Sanchez they could’ve gone to court for a warrant.”

And although many news reports have scorched San Francisco over Lopez-Sanchez’s release, few have levied the same critiques at ICE even though it did not issue that warrant.

Is this because those in media don’t understand the law? In some cases that may be true. But it could also be because news outlets are following the narrative crafted by blowhard Donald Trump, who is questioning sanctuary city policies as a whole.

Headlines like The Washington Post’s “Is San Francisco’s ‘sanctuary city’ policy to blame for a woman’s death?” seem practically written by the blithering bigot himself.

“To me, this is where the media’s power and influence is so important,” Vargas said. “How we frame this conversation is so crucial.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

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