Political News

SF sheriff defends prior release of suspect in pier slaying

Posted July 8, 2015

— San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has defended his office's decision to release a Mexican man who was in the U.S. illegally and who is now suspected in the killing of a woman at a sightseeing pier.

Mirkarimi said that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency should earlier have issued an arrest warrant for Francisco Sanchez.

"ICE knew that he had been deported five times," Mirkarimi said. "You would have thought he met a threshold that he required a court order or a warrant. They did not do that."

Prosecutors on Monday charged Sanchez with murder in the death of Kathryn Steinle, who was shot and killed last Wednesday as she and her father took a walk on the popular Pier 14.

Steinle's killing has brought criticism down on this liberal city because Sanchez had been deported repeatedly and was out on the streets after San Francisco officials disregarded a request from immigration authorities to keep him locked up.

San Francisco is one of dozens of cities and counties across the country that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The city goes so far as to promote itself as a "sanctuary" for people in the country illegally.

In a jailhouse interview with a TV station, Sanchez, a 45-year-old repeat drug offender, appeared to confirm that he came to the city because of its status as a sanctuary.

The case has prompted a flurry of criticism from ICE officials, politicians and commenters on social media, all of whom portrayed the slaying as a preventable tragedy.

"Most of the blame should fall squarely on the shoulders of the San Francisco sheriff, because his department had custody of him and made the choice to let him go without notifying ICE," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which wants tougher immigration enforcement.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, blamed sanctuary practices and the Obama administration, saying: "The tragic murder of Kate Steinle once again underscores the need to end these reckless policies."

Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement saying city policy was never intended to protect "repeat, serious and violent felons." He asked for federal and local agencies to review what happened.

In North Carolina, seven locales are listed on numerous websites as "sanctuary cities," including Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. ICE officials said, however, that there's a spectrum when it comes to whether a city acts as a sanctuary, which is an informal distinction not recognized by the federal government. Law enforcement officers in North Carolina successfully achieve a delicate balance between cooperating with federal agents and not targeting the immigrant community, officials said.

"We're going to protect them just like we will anybody else, whether undocumented or documented, but also we want those persons to know, if they commit a crime, if they come to our jail, they will be checked for their status, whether its documented or undocumented," Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney who is running for U.S. Senate, cautioned that when it comes to immigration, "our policy should not be informed by our collective outrage about one man's conduct."

Many other San Francisco politicians stayed quiet as mourners held a vigil at Pier 14 on the downtown waterfront, where the 32-year-old Steinle was gunned down, seemingly at random. She had recently moved to San Francisco.

While many cities have scaled back cooperation with ICE, few have gone as far as San Francisco.

For more than two decades, San Francisco has been considered a sanctuary for people in the U.S. illegally.

The city's sanctuary law prohibits city employees from helping federal authorities with immigration investigations or arrests unless required by law or warrant. That said, the ordinance does not prohibit local law enforcement from informing ICE that they've arrested someone in the country illegally for a felony offense or who has prior felony convictions.

From jail, Sanchez told a KGO-TV reporter in a mix of Spanish and English that he found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt while sitting on a bench at the pier.

"So I picked it up and ... it started to fire on its own," Sanchez said, adding that he heard three shots go off.

Asked if he came to San Francisco because of its sanctuary status, he said yes.

"I only want to say that if the court wants to find me guilty, I wouldn't get mad," Sanchez said during the interview, in which he appeared confused and spoke incoherently at times.


Lisa Leff and Paul J. Elias in San Francisco contributed to this report.


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  • Clif Bardwell Jul 8, 2015
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    "our policy should not be informed by our collective outrage about one man's conduct." - Kamala Harris

    Two words for you... Dylann Roof

  • Scott Thomas Jul 8, 2015
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    "...it started to fire on its own." Three times? A handgun? Who does he take us for, someone who would let him go five times?

  • Mike C Jul 8, 2015
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    Sounds like the SF sheriff is passing the blame for his incompetence to ICE. Wonder who he will blame when this criminal comes back a sixth time?

  • Roger Way Jul 8, 2015
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    So, the question remains - HOW do we secure 1,933 miles of US-Mexican and 3,987 miles of US-Canadian borders efficiently, effectively, and economically...and that doesn't begin to consider the 12,479 of unprotected water coastline. The best method of securing our borders is to detain and deport each and every undocumented individual in this country in violation of immigration laws as they are identified - but that ain't never gonna happen. Anything less is a very tiny bandage on a very large wound.

  • Al Smith Jul 8, 2015
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    It's indefensible. There's nothing you can say that makes this ok. The only thing to say is "We screwed up and we're going to fix this so that it can never happen again." This man should not have even been in the country. He had 5 chances to violate our laws and I believe DUI was one of those previous arrests. It's probably just luck that kept him from killing or injuring someone sooner.

    As liberals are fond of saying to advance their agenda "If it saves one life." Well better border security would save a lot more than 1 life.

  • Fourtyseven Cole Jul 8, 2015
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    From what I've read, he wasn't a violent offender prior to this. It is unfortunate he escalated, but there were no indications he'd take it this far. Releasing/deporting was the call anyone would have made.

  • Richard Hertz Jul 7, 2015
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    I hate this for the victim but it serves the state well. Of course he had already been thrown out 5 times. He should have been locked up forever as a repeat offender or he should have been put to death as a hazard to the general public. Now this poor women is dead and the state and the federal government should be held accountable for her death.

  • Rick Price Jul 7, 2015
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    "If he is found guilty , he wont be mad ", well I guess not, San Francisco court system will let him back out on the streets , and give him public assistance , and a phone and a house and anything else he wants .