SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The parents of a woman killed by an immigrant who was released from custody despite a federal request that he be held cannot sue San Francisco for negligence over the death that touched off a fierce national debate, a U.S. appeals court ruled.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously refused to reinstate a lawsuit the parents of Kate Steinle filed against San Francisco and its former sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, in the July 2015 shooting by Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate.
The shooting turned into a major campaign issue in multiple national and local races across the country. President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to the shooting during his 2016 campaign to bolster his argument for tougher immigration policies and his opposition to so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration officials.
Mirkarimi released Garcia-Zarate, a Mexican national, from jail three months before the shooting despite a request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to inform them of his release date and hold him until they could pick him up for deportation proceedings. Garcia-Zarate had already been deported five times.
An email to an attorney for Steinle's family, Frank Pitre, was not immediately returned.
The facts of the case are "undeniably tragic," but the sheriff was well within his authority when he issued a memo that limited his department's cooperation with immigration officials, 9th Circuit Judge Mark Bennett said. Bennett was nominated to the court by Trump, a frequent critic of the 9th Circuit.
"The tragic and unnecessary death of Steinle may well underscore the policy argument against Sheriff Mirkarimi's decision to bar his employees from providing the release date of a many times convicted felon to ICE," Bennett said. "But that policy argument can be acted upon only by California's state and municipal political branches of government, or perhaps by Congress."
Federal immigration laws cited by the plaintiffs also did not require Mirkarimi to provide Garcia-Zarate's release date, Bennett said.
A San Francisco jury in 2017 acquitted Garcia-Zarate of murder, but convicted him of illegal gun possession. Garcia-Zarate said a gun he found on the pier accidentally fired when he picked it up.
He is also facing federal gun charges to which he has pleaded not guilty.
The gun used in the fatal shooting belonged to a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger who reported it stolen from his car parked in San Francisco. Steinle's parents also named the federal government as a defendant in their lawsuit because the ranger had allegedly left the gun in plain view in an unlocked car on a downtown street. That part of the lawsuit is moving forward.