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Verdicts & Settlements

Kate Steinle’s Parents Can’t Sue San Francisco Over Sanctuary Policies

— March 28, 2019

Steinle was shot an killed by an undocumented immigrant in 2015.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the parents of Kate Steinle, a California woman shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant in 2015, cannot sue San Francisco for its sanctuary policies.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the parents of Kate Steinle, a California woman shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant in 2015, cannot sue San Francisco for its sanctuary policies.

National Public Radio reports that the decision was made by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The judges ruled that the city’s former sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, didn’t violate federal, state or local laws when he was released Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez without informing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A 2014 image of Donald Trump. President Trump has continued to make immigration a central platform for his presidency. Steinle’s killing factored into much of his political rhetoric agianst California and its sanctuary policies. Image from Flickr via Wikimedia Commons/user:Gage Skidmore. (CCA-BY-2.0).

Lopez-Sanchez, also known as Jose Inez Garcia Zarate, had been jailed on a minor marijuana charge prior to Steinle’s murder.

NPR notes that the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court dismissal of the lawsuit, characterized as “a general negligence claim” against San Francisco. Their suit claimed that Mirkarimi composed and disseminated guidance ordering that city officials restrict the variety and breadth of information shared with federal authorities about the release of undocumented immigrants from municipal jails.

The policy aligns with state laws and local ordinances commonly termed “sanctuary city” policies.

The intent of such rules is to facilitate greater trust and cooperation between members of the public, including migrant populations, and law enforcement. Sanctuary cities policies have been broadly criticized by the right. President Donald Trump has routinely invited the victims of violence by undocumented immigrants to campaign rallies, speeches and executive order signings.

While officials from some cities, like Philadelphia, say sanctuary policies have accompanied significant drops in crime, Trump and his allies claim they offer criminal migrants impunity.

The 9th Circuit Court made no determination on whether San Francisco’s policies benefit the community.

“Our holding today makes no judgment as to whether or not the policy established by the Memo was wise or prudent,” the panel wrote. “That is not our job.”

Instead, the court held that the city’s policy doesn’t violate federal law and that Mirkarimi had a right to disseminate and enforce it.

“The tragic and unnecessary death of Steinle may well underscore the policy argument against Sheriff Mirkarimi’s decision to bar his employees from providing the release date of a many times convicted felon to ICE,” wrote Judge Mark J. Bennett, who NPR notes is a Trump appointee.

“But that policy argument can be acted upon only by California’s state and municipal political branches of government, or perhaps by Congress—but not by federal judges applying California law as determined by the California Supreme Court.”

Moreover, Bennett ruled that the federal immigration laws cited by Steinle’s parents in their lawsuit did not compel San Francisco to provide Garcia-Zarate’s release date to ICE.

Garcia-Zarate, adds the Associated Press, claimed he found a firearm under a park bench and accidentally discharged it, striking and killing Steinle.

A San Francisco jury acquitted him of murder in 2017, although he was found guilty of illegal firearm possession.

The AP notes that the weapon used in Steinle’s killing was reported stolen from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management vehicle parked in San Francisco. Consequently, Steinle’s parents have also filed suit against the federal government, saying the gun was left in the open in an unattended, unlocked car.


Appeals Court Says Parents Can’t Sue San Francisco Over Immigrant Who Killed Daughter

Court: San Francisco Can’t Be Sued Over Immigrant Shooting

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