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‘Sanctuary city’ no haven for a family and its grief

Times Staff Writer

Frank Kennedy is a third-generation San Franciscan, the son and grandson of local police officers and the proud owner of a Bay Area business. And this week he became Exhibit A for all he believes ails his hometown.

On Wednesday, a 21-year-old undocumented Salvadoran immigrant pleaded not guilty to murdering Kennedy’s brother-in-law and two nephews in a case that has galvanized sentiment nationwide against this “sanctuary city” and its ambitious mayor.

Kennedy has spent much of the time since telling anyone who will listen that San Francisco and cities like it should stop shielding illegal immigrants from federal authorities and that officials here are responsible for his loved ones’ deaths.

Suspect Edwin Ramos awaits trial in San Francisco County Jail, a system that released him nearly three months before the slayings. Convicted twice on felony charges as a juvenile, he was protected then from immigration officials because of the city’s sanctuary policy.

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“Any mayor, any board of supervisors that passes these laws should be prosecuted to the fullest,” Kennedy said in a recent interview.

“This is not the United States of San Francisco . . . My family was the sacrificial lamb in this.”

Immigration activists have embraced the grieving family, using the June 22 deaths of Anthony, Matthew and Michael Bologna to call for change. Conservative broadcasters have vilified the city and its officials all week.

Outraged e-mailers have lit up message boards for days. And federal immigration officials have demanded greater access to the city’s jails, telling Mayor Gavin Newsom in a letter Wednesday that the sanctuary policy means they can’t “prevent the release of these criminal aliens . . . “

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CNN’s Lou Dobbs asked Kennedy: “What is your reaction when you think about the fact that Mayor Newsom has with great, complete, sanctimonious arrogance defended the sanctuary policy of this city?”

On June 22, Anthony Bologna, 48, and his sons Matthew, 16, and Michael, 20, were driving back to their home in this city’s Excelsior neighborhood from a family get-together at Kennedy’s home.

Driving south on a narrow street, Bologna stopped the car, inadvertently blocking the path of a Chrysler 300M, authorities said. The Chrysler’s driver pulled up alongside and began shooting. The father and his oldest son died at the scene. The younger boy died later at San Francisco General Hospital.

“That Sunday, we had breakfast, hugged each other, kissed each other and the kids,” Kennedy said.

Later that day, the phone rang, and “the homicide inspectors told my wife her brother was shot and killed along with his son . . . . “

Bologna “was a wonderful individual and a great father,” Kennedy said. “To have him assassinated in broad daylight with my two nephews is incomprehensible.”

Three days later, police arrested Ramos of nearby El Sobrante. San Francisco Police Sgt. Neville Gittens said Ramos is allegedly a member of the violent Mara Salvatrucha gang.

He was charged with three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. Because of the serious nature of the crime -- including the fact that there were multiple victims -- state law would allow the death penalty to be invoked if Ramos is convicted.

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Kennedy, his sister-in-law Danielle Bologna and various activist groups are calling on Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris to seek the death penalty in the case.

Harris is opposed to capital punishment and came under fire earlier in her career when she did not seek the death penalty in the murder of a San Francisco police officer. She has yet to decide whether to do so in the Bolognas’ case.

The widespread uproar over the Bolognas’ deaths began this week, after the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ramos had been found guilty of two felonies as a juvenile.

Because of the city’s sanctuary policy -- enacted in 1989 -- local agencies do not consider immigration status when dealing with young offenders and therefore did not check whether Ramos was in the country legally.

Ramos was also arrested March 30 on a weapons violation, along with an alleged gang member riding in his car. After he spent several days in jail, authorities decided to file charges against the other man but not him, and Ramos was released, said Eileen Hirst, a sheriff’s spokeswoman.

Deportation proceedings against Ramos could have been initiated but were not because of an apparent mix-up between the federal Immigration, Customs and Enforcement Agency and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, which runs the jail.

Hirst said jail officials notified ICE two times that they had Ramos in custody but were told there was no government detainer against Ramos.

A detainer is the document that says there is probable cause to believe someone is in the country illegally. Without that, Hirst said, the Sheriff’s Department could not hold Ramos.

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But ICE spokesman Tim Counts said the jail contacted federal immigration officials only once -- at 3:44 a.m. April 2, two hours after Ramos had been released.

“At 5:12 a.m. we sent the response back saying he’s an illegal alien in removal proceedings,” Counts said, an account that the Sheriff’s Department disputes.

But it was too late. Ramos was gone. And less than three months later, the Bolognas were dead.

Robert Amparan, Ramos’ defense attorney, did not return phone calls for comment. According to published reports, Amparan says his client was not the shooter, was not involved with gangs and is in the country legally.

The triple murder is not the first time this summer that San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy has come under fire.

The same week that Newsom announced he was exploring a run for governor, he overturned the part of the policy that shielded convicted juvenile drug offenders who were illegal immigrants from federal authorities.

Instead of handing them over for deportation, city officials for years would escort the young offenders back to their home countries or place them in unsecured halfway houses. This summer, several escaped from facilities in San Bernardino County and other regions.

On Tuesday, Newsom ordered “a top-to-bottom review” of the sanctuary policy, to ensure that “in every case we are complying with applicable federal and state law,” said Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for the mayor.

One day later, however, ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Myers wrote to Newsom demanding greater access to San Francisco jails. She requested the kind of cooperation her agency has with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which works with ICE to screen for undocumented inmates in its jails.

Because of jail policy under the sanctuary city ordinance, she wrote, “ICE is unable to effectively identify criminal aliens in the Sheriff’s custody and lodge the detainers necessary to prevent the release of these criminal aliens back into the San Francisco community.”

But Ballard, Newsom’s spokesman, insisted that “the sheriff has turned over felons to ICE. That is his standard practice. Whether ICE chooses to pick them up or not is up to ICE. The sheriff complies with the law.”

For the grieving Kennedy and Bologna families, that’s little comfort.

“I took my son off life support two days after his dad and brother were murdered,” said a tearful Danielle Bologna, 47, who now must raise her surviving two children alone. “It was the most difficult part of my entire life to look at my baby and know he was gone . . . .

“We used to have six,” she said. “Now we have half.”

Bologna and Kennedy have vowed to work with immigration activists to change San Francisco’s sanctuary policy and others like it.

“This issue is not going to calm down until changes are made,” said Kennedy, 52. “I’m going to make sure of it. . . . And as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Newsom’s political future after this is washed up.”

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maria.laganga @latimes.com


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