The man accused of gunning down a 32-year-old Pleasanton woman while she was out strolling San Francisco's Embarcadero with her father was in a Bay Area jail less than four months ago and should have been turned over to federal immigration officials upon his release, instead of being set free, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
But that's not the way the San Francisco County Sheriff's Legal Counsel Freya Horne sees it. In an interview Friday with NBC Bay Area, she said the city and county of San Francisco are sanctuaries for immigrants, and they do not turn over undocumented people – if they don't have active warrants out for them – simply because immigration officials want them to.
Meanwhile, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said Francisco Sanchez, who was arrested following the Wednesday evening shooting of Kathryn "Kate" Steidle along Pier 14, has "made an admission" with regards to the seemingly random death in the middle of a populated part of town.
The slain woman's parents had mixed feelings about Sanchez's legal status.
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"It would have been so much better if he were gone. Absolutely," said Steinle's mother, Liz Sullivan.
"But we're not dwelling on that,", Jim Steinle said, adding that nothing will bring his daughter back. "It's a non-issue."
And for her part, Horne said she realized that letting Sanchez out of jail on April 15 after not being charged with marijuana sales is a shame. But the jail acted according to city, and state, law.
Sanctuary cities, which are dotted throughout the United States, don't inquire about immigrants' status for the federal government and actively don't pursue catching undocumented immigrants to deport them. San Francisco's particular ordinance is called the "Due Process Ordinance for All on Civil Immigration Detainers."
The issue is a divisive one. Liberals mostly argue in favor of not reporting immigrants to immigration for deportation, and conservatives, including Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, argue that illegal immigrants, especially those that commit crimes, are the reason why the United States should better enforce its borders.
Sanchez, who law enforcement say is either 45 or 46 and has about a dozen aliases, was taken into custody after witnesses described him to police. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he is an undocumented immigrant with a long criminal history who has previously been deported to Mexico five times, the last time in 2008. He was last in prison, serving time, for illegally re-entering the United States, ICE records show.
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"It's a tragedy," Horne said. "We all recognize that. But we followed city policy."
But ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told NBC Bay Area on Friday that Sanchez should have been returned to her agency's custody, because he had a "detainer" on his status in jail.
He was an "enforcement priority," Kice said. But Horne said that San Francisco treats these detainers as requests, not mandates.
Federal records show Sanchez has seven prior felony convictions, four of which were for drug charges. Records indicate his convictions took place in states including Texas, Oregon and Arizona. And a law enforcement source said the case that landed Sanchez in San Francisco jail most recently was for a marijuana case that was more than a decade old.
Police have described the shooting as random, as Steinle was not robbed and never even exchanged words with the man who killed her.
Suhr also NBC Bay Area that prosecutors declined to charge Sanchez with any crime when he was brought to jail on March 26 for the marijuana sales. And he said the jail, which is run by the sheriff, never notified police, which is standard protocol.
San Francisco Police Officer Grace Gatpandan Gatpandan added that San Francisco is a "sanctuary city, so we do not hand over people to ICE."