Kate Steinle case: Dismissal of parents’ suit against San Francisco is upheld

Flowers and a portrait of Kathryn Steinle at Pier 14 in San Francisco in 2015.
Flowers and a portrait of Kathryn Steinle at Pier 14 in San Francisco in 2015.
(Paul Chinn / San Francisco Chronicle via Associated Press)

A federal appeals court led by a Trump appointee Monday unanimously upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against San Francisco for failing to alert immigration authorities of the release of the immigrant who killed Kathryn Steinle.

The suit, brought by Steinle’s parents, alleged that San Francisco was negligent for failing to comply with a 2015 request by Immigration and Customs Enforcement representatives to hold the jailed immigrant until federal authorities could take custody.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, also known as José Inez García Zárate, shot and killed Steinle, 32, near Pier 14 of San Francisco’s Embarcadero in July, 2015 as she walked with her father.

The lawsuit, which sought unspecified damages, said a memorandum written in 2015 by then-San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi violated various laws.


Mirkarimi’s memo said employees could provide information to ICE only if it was already public, or if federal authorities obtained a warrant or court order and employees first checked with the sheriff’s legal counsel.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said San Francisco violated no state, local or federal law.

“Our holding today makes no judgment as to whether or not the policy established by the memo was wise or prudent,” Judge Mark J. Bennett, a Trump appointee, wrote for the court. “That is not our job.”

Lopez-Sanchez, who was in the country without legal authorization, shot Steinle about 2½ months after being released from San Francisco jail.

In upholding the suit’s dismissal, the 9th Circuit said Mirkarimi had the legal right to enact his policy, even if it adversely affected ICE’s ability to do its job.

“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,” the panel decided.

“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,” the panel said.

A San Francisco jury in 2017 acquitted Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican immigrant, of homicide charges, finding him guilty instead of being a felon in possession a gun.

His lawyer argued that he found the gun, which was wrapped in cloth, on the pier, and the weapon accidentally discharged when he unwrapped it.

The lawyer cited evidence that the bullet bounced off the pavement before striking Steinle.

The gun that killed her was owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and had been stolen from an agent’s car four days before the shooting.

Steinle’s death ignited a firestorm of criticism over sanctuary city policies, which prohibit local and state law enforcement from holding immigrants for federal immigration authorities unless ordered to do so by courts.

Supporters of the policies say they encourage immigrants who entered the country without authorization to cooperate with police without fear of deportation.

Twitter: @mauradolan