San Francisco police divers search the waters south of Pier 14 and retrieve an object they placed into a plastic box on July 2, 2015, one day after the fatal shooting of Kate Steinle. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

SF police diver who recovered weapon that killed Kate Steinle testifies in court

The police diver who found the pistol an undocumented homeless man allegedly used to kill Kate Steinle testified Wednesday that the weapon was wedged between a boulder and concrete in the murky San Francisco Bay waters off Pier 14.

Scott Hurley, a San Francisco police officer on the Underwater Hazardous Device team, said in court that he crawled along the ocean floor through silt and old wooden piers until he touched the handgun that Jose Ines Garcia Zarate is accused of firing at Steinle.

“I held it up to the front of my face,” said Hurley, but water was too murky to see the weapon. “I climbed up onto a rock holding the gun and stretched my arm out as far as I could to try and get some light.”

SEE RELATED: Witnesses describe ‘odd’ behavior of Kate Steinle’s alleged killer moments after shooting

That’s when Hurley knew what he had discovered. The officer and his partner placed the weapon in a plastic box and brought it to the surface, where it would later be tested at the police crime lab.

Prosecutor Diana Garcia called Hurley and two other officers to the stand on Wednesday in the trial of Garcia Zarate, a 45-year-old Mexican citizen who is also known as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez.

Garcia Zarate is facing a second-degree murder charge and two other felonies for allegedly firing a single round that ricocheted off the ground and struck Steinle in the lower back on July 1, 2015.

The prosecution believes that Garcia Zarate intended to fire the weapon toward people on the pier when the bullet hit Steinle. Garcia Zarate is then accused of throwing the weapon into the water before fleeing the pier.

Matt Gonzalez, an attorney for Garcia Zarate, claims that the shooting was accidental and that the weapon went off when the defendant found it wrapped in a piece of clothing.

On Wednesday, Hurley testified that he did not find a rag at the bottom of the Bay when he found the weapon covered in silt. Hurley did say that he could not see more than three inches in front of his face and was diving in zero visibility.

“It was just the gun by itself,” he said.

But Gonzalez pointed out during cross-examination that Hurley was not searching for the cloth that the gun may have been wrapped in.

“You are not testifying that you were doing a search for any cloth?,” Gonzalez asked.

“Correct,” Hurley said.

Garcia introduced photographs into evidence showing the divers recover the weapon the day after the killing.

Officer Andrew Bryant, a 10-year veteran who arrested Garcia Zarate an hour after the shooting, also testified in court Wednesday.

Bryant said he was driving his marked police car in search of the shooting suspect when he saw Garcia Zarate sitting near Java House at Pier 40.

“When we finally made eye contact — we call it like a deer in headlight — his eyes got big,” Bryant said in court.

Bryant said that Garcia Zarate stood up and started walking away before he pulled over and pointed his weapon at the defendant.

“I said ‘stop,’ and he kind of just looked at me and continued to walk,” Bryant said, adding that Garcia Zarate then laid on the ground.

Bryant then searched and handcuffed Garcia Zarate. About 45 minutes later, Bryant said he put bags over Garcia Zarate’s hands to preserve any gunshot residue as evidence of the shooting.

The crime lab later recovered just 1 particle of gunshot residue on his hands compared to 18,000 particles of crackers on his hands from the food he had eaten earlier, according to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez suggested that the gunshot residue particle could have been transferred from an officer or the patrol car he was placed in.

Officer Raymond Ortiz, a crime scene investigator who processed the Steinle homicide scene, also testified on Wednesday morning.

Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday afternoon.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with additional information from the defense’s cross-examination.

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