Homicide

Judge considers request to dismiss suit from Kate Steinle's family 1 year after her death

Can the family win the case? Legal panel debates the case on 'America's Newsroom'

 

A federal judge on Friday considered a request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the parents of Kate Steinle, a young woman shot and killed allegedly by an illegal immigrant on a San Francisco pier last year.

The family sued the city and two federal agencies, accusing them of wrongdoing because of the suspect’s illegal status. The judge in Friday’s hearing was expected to decide within days whether to dismiss the suit.

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The family’s counsel said the judge was “obviously well briefed and seemed focused on the single issue of the ‘BLM case’ which seemed to be about the conduct of a law enforcement officer and foreseeable circumstances.” A Bureau of Land Management ranger reported that a gun was stolen from his car while it was parked in downtown San Francisco.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez said he found the gun and it fired when he picked it up, striking Steinle, 32, in the back. He pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge.

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Kate Steinle's parents accused the sheriff's department of failing to notify federal immigration officials that it was releasing Lopez-Sanchez from jail. They also sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the BLM. Calling the entire episode a "tragic series of events," the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Steinle's shooting death in July 2015 thrust San Francisco into the national debate over immigration.

Lopez-Sanchez was transferred to the city jail to face a marijuana sales charge after he completed a nearly four-year federal prison sentence for illegal re-entry into the country in March. The district attorney dropped charges and the sheriff's department released Lopez-Sanchez, ignoring an ICE request to keep him behind bars.

San Francisco's so-called "sanctuary policy," which was tweaked and re-affirmed earlier this year, bars city employees from cooperating with federal immigration officials in deportation efforts. The law dates to 1989.

The sheriff at the time cited the law in defending the release of Lopez-Sanchez, a repeat drug offender and habitual border crosser. Advocates of sanctuary protections say a clear division between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities is needed to foster trust.

Steinle's parents allege that the sheriff had an obligation to alert immigration officials that Lopez-Sanchez was being released, despite the city's sanctuary policy. The lawsuit also alleges that ICE knew Lopez-Sanchez was in the San Francisco jail and that agents should have taken him into their custody regardless of the sheriff's actions.

Finally, the lawsuit alleges that the BLM agent was negligent for leaving a service handgun in a backpack in his government-issued car. A burglar broke a window and stole the backpack two weeks before Steinle was shot.

Lopez-Sanchez remains jailed in the murder case.

Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the city attorney, said the city's "heart goes out to the Steinle family" but that the sheriff can't be "held liable for the conduct of a criminal."

Fox News' Peter Shaplen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.