SF denies liability for Kate Steinle’s killing in appeals court

Attorneys for San Francisco argued Monday that an appeals court should uphold a judge’s decision to throw out a lawsuit alleging former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s negligence caused the death of Kate Steinle.

Steinle’s parents brought their lawsuit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in November after a federal judge dismissed allegations made against San Francisco and Mirkarimi in connection with Steinle’s death, which has drawn national attention.

On Monday, the City Attorney’s Office filed arguments responding to claims that Mirkarimi acted negligently when he ignored an immigration detainer request and released from jail the undocumented man who later shot Steinle, a 32-year-old San Francisco resident.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who was acquitted in November of murder and manslaughter in San Francisco Superior Court for killing Steinle in what his attorneys portrayed as an accidental shooting, is known in the federal court battle as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez.

“This case involves a heart-wrenching death and Lopez’s unforgivable carelessness with a firearm,” City Attorney Christine Van Aken wrote in her response to the appeal. “But The City is not liable for Appellant’s harms.”

Van Aken said Mirkarimi did not have a duty to respond to a “voluntary” detainer request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She also argued that Mirkarimi was “not the cause of Lopez obtaining a stolen firearm and killing Steinle two and a half months after his release.”

Garcia Zarate fired a bullet on July 1, 2015 that ricocheted off Pier 14 and struck Steinle. The case drew the attention of President Donald Trump, who has used it to call for a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation between local law enforcement and immigration authorities.

In a Jan. 6 ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero found that Mirkarimi had “discretionary immunity” when he created created a no contact policy preventing the Sheriff’s Department from disclosing the release date of undocumented immigrants to ICE. That means Mirkarimi cannot be held liable for a policy decision he made as a government official.

Van Aken also argued that Mirkarimi had discretionary immunity, but attorneys for the parents previously argued Mirkarimi “should not be entitled to immunity for doing something that violates federal and state law.”

While dismissing claims against Mirkarimi and San Francisco, Spero allowed claims against the federal government to be heard at trial over a Bureau of Land Management ranger who left his firearm unsecured in a parked vehicle in San Francisco. The weapon was stolen and later used to shoot Steinle.

The cases are ongoing.

Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink

Michael Barba

Michael Barba covers criminal justice for the San Francisco Examiner. Contact him at (415)359-2874 or mbarba@sfexaminer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mdbarba.

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