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S.F. sheriff’s deputies call lack of communication with ICE ‘reckless’ after pier shooting

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi discusses the release in April of murder suspect Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez at a news conference July 10.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi discusses the release in April of murder suspect Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez at a news conference July 10.

(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Turning up the political heat on San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in an election cycle, the union that represents the department’s deputies charges in a labor grievance that his policy to limit communication with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “recklessly compromises the safety of sworn personnel, citizens, and those who merely come to visit the San Francisco area.”

The filing of the grievance, dated Monday, was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

It is the latest in a barrage of finger-pointing nationwide over the release of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez from the San Francisco County Jail on April 15 after prosecutors declined to pursue charges against him related to a 20-year-old bench warrant for marijuana possession and sales.

ICE officials had lodged a “detainer,” requesting that he be held for pickup by federal agents, but it was not honored.

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Lopez-Sanchez earlier this month pleaded not guilty to murder in the shooting death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle on July 1 at a popular San Francisco pier. Lopez-Sanchez is a five-time deportee with a string of felonies for drug crimes and criminal reentry to the United States after removal.

The grievance by the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs’ Assn. challenges Mirkarimi’s March 13 department-wide memo that called for “limited contact and communication with ICE representatives absent a court-issued warrant, a signed court order, or other legal requirement authorizing ICE access.”

The memo then details which information can and cannot be shared without a court order.

Mirkarimi’s directive went a step further than the city’s 2013 Due Process for All ordinance, which bars jail officials from honoring ICE requests that inmates be held beyond their release dates for pickup unless the inmate faced court action on a violent felony charge and was convicted of a similar crime in the past seven years.

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He issued the memo as departments across the state and nation also implemented policies barring the honoring of detainers absent a judicial warrant. ICE has said it cannot obtain such probable cause warrants because there is not a process readily available for such a purpose.

The crackdown on cooperation with ICE came after federal courts last year deemed the detainers unconstitutional absent some kind of judicial review.

A handful of agencies -- including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department -- instead of responding to the hold requests had shifted to notifying ICE of pending releases in cases that conform to California’s Trust Act. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department was not among those agencies.

The grievance demands a “meet and confer” to address Mirkarimi’s policy and calls it a “flawed philosophy.” It also states that, absent a change, the sheriff himself should handle all the bureaucratic work associated with ICE requests.

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The grievance, written by Peter Hoffman, an attorney for the union, cites Steinle’s death as evidence of bad policy. Since the policy was implemented without discussion during monthly labor-management meetings with the association, Hoffman continued, it should be “immediately rescinded.”

In a text message response, Mirkarimi called the letter “political posturing” and “not a meet and confer issue,” adding that “the high majority of California county law enforcement agencies have ICE detainer-notification policies similar to San Francisco.”

The deputies association has endorsed Mirkarimi’s opponent in the November election.

“When they disagreed with my predecessor, Sheriff Mike Hennessey, they used similar tactics in opposing him during most of his 32 years in office,” Mirkarimi added, noting that Hennessey is endorsing him.

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Both men are known for liberal policies.

Mirkarimi has also struggled with a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction that came shortly after he took office in 2012, the death of a patient at San Francisco General Hospital who had wandered into a stairwell and was not found for days, and recent allegations of fights among inmates in the county jail that were allegedly orchestrated by a deputy.

In an interview, Hoffman said he “cannot speak to what other law enforcement agencies have or have not done with respect to communicating with ICE. I can tell you the sheriff did change policy effective March of this year to effectively eliminate communication with ICE altogether, and that is the change in working conditions that we’re focused on.”

“One of the fundamental principles of being able to represent your members is to understand what is expected of them in the performance of their duties,” he added. “When the dheriff says, ‘We don’t coordinate or communicate with a branch of government,’ that makes it problematic for them to uphold laws.”

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Hoffman said that in the past there had been “some level of communication” with ICE by rank-and-file deputies but “this absolutely modifies that relationship.”

For more San Francisco news, follow @leeromney.


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