The family of a woman shot and killed along San Francisco’s waterfront last July has filed a federal wrongful lawsuit alleging Kathryn Steinle died because of negligence by San Francisco, its former sheriff and two federal agencies.
Steinle was killed July 1, 2015, when a gun was fired on Pier 14 allegedly by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican citizen and convicted felon who has since been charged with murder.
The case has caused much acrimony over San Francisco’s sanctuary law, which prevents most local law enforcement communication with immigration officials. The City this week upheld the law, along with new parameters allowing the sheriff to communicate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if the person had a serious felony in the past five years or has been convicted of three specific felonies.
The law’s original purpose was meant to encourage undocumented immigrants — many of whom feared police would turn them over to immigration officials — to cooperate with law enforcement by promising not to communicate on most matters with ICE.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, alleges a number of government entities and officials are at fault for the “tragic” death of Steinle. It claims that her death was the result of a domino effect of missteps, including the questionable release Lopez-Sanchez from custody, the failure of ICE to detain him after his release and the theft of an unsecured federal agent’s gun used to kill Steinle.
“Kate’s death was both foreseeable and preventable had the law enforcement agencies, officials and or officers involved simply followed the laws, regulations and or procedures which they swore to uphold,” reads the filing.
The gun that killed Steinle was stolen out of the car of a Bureau of Land Management agent, so the family’s suit claims in part the death is due to the negligence of that official to secure his weapon.
The suit also claims that former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s department memo barring communication with federal agencies regarding undocumented inmates played a part in Steinle’s death because it prevented federal immigration authorities from taking Lopez-Sanchez into custody. .
It also lays blame with ICE for allegedly failing to take Lopez-Sanchez into custody since the agency knew his whereabouts, despite Mirkarimi’s’ stance on communication.
Lopez-Sanchez was remanded to County Jail last year after serving time in Victorville federal prison for immigration violations. The minor drug possession charges, which originally caused the old bench warrant to be issued, were promptly dropped and Lopez-Sanchez was released March 26 since no outstanding warrants existed.
Meanwhile, ICE had asked The City to inform them when Lopez-Sanchez was released, but that request was denied because under San Francisco law such notifications only occur when the inmate has a violent conviction, which he did not.
The City does not comment on on-going lawsuits.