Kate Steinle's Family Files Claim Against San Francisco, ICE, Bureau of Land Management for Pier 14 Shooting

The family of a young woman gunned down along Pier 14 in San Francisco filed claims against local and federal agencies on Tuesday, saying those agencies' failings led to her death. 

Kate Steinle, 32, was killed on July 1 while taking a stroll with her father along the San Francisco landmark when Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant with a criminal history, allegedly shot her. Lopez-Sanchez, who said he doesn't remember the shooting, allegedly used a large caliber handgun that belonged to a federal Bureau of Land Management agent. 

The Steinle's claims, filed by the firm Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy, claims that authorities failed to properly store the fire arm used in the crime, that the city of San Francisco's "Sanctuary City" policy failed, and that failed immigration procedures resulted in Steinle's much-publicized July death.

The claims, filed on behalf of parents James Steinle and Liz Sullivan, are the administrative precursors to lawsuits. They do not specify the amount of damages the Livermore family seeks, but they do name the city and county of San Francisco, the Sheriff's Department and Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, as well as the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Interior as defendants.

One specific claim alleges that Steinle died because the San Francisco County Jail did not tell Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that an undocumented immigrant had been released – in connection with the city's policy as a "Sanctuary City" – resulting in her family's "severe" emotional distress.

The city of San Francisco has done "absolutely nothing to prevent this from happening to another person," Steinle's brother, Brad Steinle, said at a news conference on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. "Nobody should have to endure this pain on a daily basis because the system failed our sister."

Another claim looks at San Francisco's sanctuary city law. 

The claim alleges that San Francisco refused "to carry out mandatory duties to report convicted felons that are undocumented immigrants to Immigration Customs Enforcement," as well as flagrantly violating federal and state mandates, which "exceeded their legal authority" and "set in motion the tragic series of events which foreseeably led to the death of the 32-year-old Pleasanton woman walking along Pier 14." Her father said she had just taken a selfie before she was shot.

The San Francisco sanctuary city law, passed in 1989, prohibits the use of city funds and resources to "assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law or to gather or disseminate information regarding the immigration status of individuals" unless required by state or federal law.The law was amended in 1992 to explicitly allow for reporting to federal authorities when someone has been convicted of felony in California, which one of the claims alleges was the case here.

Lopez-Sanchez was arrested after the shooting and has admitted to media outlets that he had been smoking pot and taking sleeping pills when he shot her, although he entered a not guilty plea to murder charges in San Francisco Superior Court.

The Mexico native has previously been convicted of seven felonies, four of them for drugs, and had been deported five times prior to shooting. He told the media that he came to San Francisco because it was a "Sanctuary City," the claim states.

ICE agents had sent Lopez-Sanchez to San Francisco jail to serve out a decades-old marijuana case, and had asked the sheriff to alert them when he was released. Prosecutors decided not to charge Lopez-Sanchez, and Mirkarimi did not alert ICE that the jail released him in April.

In a statement, the sheriff's office stated: “While Sheriff Mirkarimi can’t comment on potential litigation, he continues to extend his deepest sympathy to the Steinle family for their loss.”

The Bureau of Land Management issued a similar statement: The agency "takes seriously the loss of any human life and we are continuing to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigations."

And ICE issued this: "The Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) met recently with members of the Steinle family to express the agency’s profound sympathy for their loss."

Highlights of the three claims include:

  • San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's acknowledging "culpability" in the death, after the mayor said publicly that the "Sanctuary City" ordinance doesn't preclude law enforcement agencies from communication with federal law enforcement agencies.
  • U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein's remarks that the sheriff "failed to respond" to the ICE detainer and that an undocumented immigrant "should not have been released."
  • Mirkarimi’s March 13 memo directing deputies against notifying ICE about jailed suspects, which allegedly contravenes federal law that protects the right of law enforcement agents to contact immigration authorities.
  • The BLM agent's failure "to follow mandatory regulations and procedures" for storing a firearm – a .40 caliber SIG Sauer stolen on June 27 –  that allowed Lopez-Sanchez to obtain and allegedly kill Steinle. The claim alleges that the fully loaded handgun was left "unattended in a backpack that was in plain sight" in the agent's vehicle.
  • ICE's release of Lopez-Sanchez to authorities in San Francisco, knowing that the city was a "Sanctuary City," and had been told on "several occasions" that officials would not honor ICE detainers.
The Steinle family said it wasn't interested in pointing fingers, but they have become advocates for immigration reform. "Somebody has to stand up and unfortunately it took the death of my daughter to become activists," her father said. At the news conference, he added: "If you think this can't happen to you, think again."
On Monday night, Sullivan told NBC Bay Area, that "everyone can’t keep saying this is the way it is — it isn’t the way it has to be. We have to stand up and say we’re mad as hell we’re not going to take it anymore."

He added that his family is not "litigous," but they just felt that the claims will force agencies to be more accountable.

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