Steinle parents can’t sue SF for refusal to tell immigrant officials of shooter’s release

The parents of Kate Steinle, who was shot to death on a San Francisco pier by an undocumented immigrant, cannot sue the city for refusing to notify federal agents of the immigrant’s release from local custody 2 ½ months earlier, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

San Francisco and its then-sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, acted within their policy-making authority by deciding they would not advise immigration officials of an undocumented immigrant’s impending release from jail or keep the immigrant in custody for transfer to federal agents, said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court also said San Francisco’s policy did not violate federal law, which requires only that local officials share information with federal agents about the immigration status of local inmates. The 3-0 ruling was written by Judge Mark Bennett, an appointee of President Trump. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump called Steinle’s killer an “animal” and claimed the shooting showed the need for a wall at the Mexican border.

The judges also disagreed with the Trump administration’s interpretation of a federal law that requires cities and counties to share information with immigration officials about the “immigration status” of anyone in local custody. Contrary to arguments by the administration in other cases, and by Steinle’s parents in their suit, the law “clearly does not” require local governments to provide information about a migrant’s future release date, Bennett said.

In response, City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office issued a statement that called Steinle’s death “a senseless tragedy” but said the ruling “allows the city to decide what policies are best to protect all of its residents.”

Lawyers for Steinle’s parents could not be reached for comment.

Steinle, 32, was shot as she was walking with her father along Pier 14 in July 2015. The gun was held by Jose Garcia Zarate, who had just spent 46 months in federal prison for illegal re-entry into the U.S. when federal officials turned him over to San Francisco in March 2015 to face an old marijuana charge. Garcia Zarate had been deported to his native Mexico five times previously.

City prosecutors dropped the marijuana charge, and Mirkarimi’s office then released Garcia Zarate, disregarding immigration officials’ request to hold him until they could pick him up. The sheriff said his policy was based on San Francisco’s sanctuary-city ordinance, which allowed local officers to ignore such requests by federal agencies.

Garcia Zarate denied intentionally shooting the gun that killed Steinle and said he had found it wrapped in a towel on the waterfront and immediately dropped it. Accepting his defense that the shooting was accidental, a jury acquitted him of murder and assault charges and convicted him only of being a felon in possession of a gun. He has appealed the conviction.

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