California Magistrate Dismisses Claims Against San Francisco Following Pier 14 Shooting

Early one evening in July 2015, 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed on Pier 14 in San Francisco. The bullet hit Steinle from behind, piercing her aorta. She quickly collapsed to the ground and screamed for help. Her father performed CPR on his daughter before paramedics arrived. Kathryn died two hours later at the hospital. The shooter, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was arrested roughly an hour after the shooting and charged with murder. The Steinles filed suit for wrongful death and negligence against various government officials in May 2016.

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Lopez-Sanchez was charged with first-degree murder on July 6, 2015. The defendant admitted in an interview that he fired the lethal shot, but that he found the gun under a bench after taking sleeping pills from the trash. He also said that he was aiming to shot sea lions and hit Steinle accidentally. Lopez-Sanchez pleaded not guilty to the charges. The trial is scheduled for February 17, 2017.

Lopez-Sanchez had immigrated illegally from Mexico and had previously been deported five times. The shooting triggered debate over San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city. (While there is no legal definition, sanctuary cities generally have policies or laws that limit the extent to which law enforcement and other government employees will go to assist the federal government on immigration matters.) President-elect Trump has cited Lopez-Sanchez in support of his proposal to deport foreigners living illegally in the United States, and even mentioned Steinle during his acceptance speech at the RNC in 2016. Despite national criticism, the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors upheld protections for people in the country illegally this summer.

In May 2016, Steinle’s family filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), San Francisco County’s former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Mr. Lopez-Sanchez. Steinle’s parents argued that the City of San Francisco and its former sheriff were responsible in part because officials failed to notify ICE when Lopez-Sanchez was released from a local jail. The lawsuit argued that Kathryn’s death was preventable if law enforcement had followed the laws, procedures, and regulations they were required to uphold.

This month, Judge Joseph Spero dismissed the claims against the City of San Francisco and the former sheriff. The court reasoned that under established precedent, the city and its taxpayers could not be held liable for the actions of a former inmate. The magistrate also dismissed the family’s claim against ICE. Judge Spero reasoned that there was no law requiring the Sheriff to communicate Lopez-Sanchez’s release date to ICE, nor did any law forbid former sheriff Mirkarimi from establishing a policy against cooperation.

The Steinles’ negligence claims against the BLM, however, were allowed to proceed. Law enforcement indicated that the Lopez-Sanchez’s gun had been stolen from an agent of the BLM, whose vehicle was unattended. Attorneys for the federal government believe that the BLM shouldn’t be held responsible for crimes committed with the gun after it was stolen.

Attorneys for the Steinles and the US attorney’s office have refused to comment.

The personal injury lawyers at the Neumann Law Group represent victims throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.

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