SAN FRANCISCO » The parents of a woman killed on a San Francisco pier have sued the city and two federal agencies, accusing them of contributing to her death because the man charged in the slaying was in the country illegally.
Kate Steinle’s parents filed the wrongful death lawsuit today, accusing the Sheriff’s Department of failing to notify federal immigration officials that it was releasing Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez from jail.
They also are suing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. A BLM ranger reported that a gun was stolen from his car while it was parked in downtown San Francisco.
Lopez-Sanchez says he found the gun and it fired when he picked it up, striking Steinle, 32, in the back. He has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge.
Steinle’s shooting death in July thrust San Francisco into the national debate over immigration.
Lopez-Sanchez was transferred to the city jail to face a marijuana sales charge after he completed a nearly four-year federal prison sentence for illegal re-entry into the country in March. The district attorney dropped charges and the sheriff’s department released Lopez-Sanchez, ignoring an ICE request to keep him behind bars.
San Francisco’s so-called “sanctuary policy,” which was tweaked and re-affirmed last week, bars city employees from cooperating with federal immigration officials in deportation efforts. The law dates to 1989.
The sheriff at the time cited the law in defending the release of Lopez-Sanchez, a repeat drug offender and habitual border crosser.
Advocates of sanctuary protections say a clear division between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities is needed to foster trust.
Calling the entire episode a “tragic series of events,” the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
Steinle’s parents allege that the sheriff had an obligation to alert immigration officials that Lopez-Sanchez was being released, despite the city’s sanctuary policy. The lawsuit also alleges that ICE knew Lopez-Sanchez was in the San Francisco jail and that agents should have taken him into their custody regardless of the sheriff’s actions.
Finally, the lawsuit alleges that the BLM agent was negligent for leaving a service handgun in a backpack in his government-issued car. A burglar broke a window and stole the backpack two weeks before Steinle was shot.
Lopez-Sanchez remains jailed in the murder case.
The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department referred calls to the city attorney’s office.
Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the city attorney, said the city’s “heart goes out to the Steinle family” but that the sheriff can’t be “held liable for the conduct of a criminal.”
Officials with BLM and ICE didn’t respond to inquiries for comment Friday.