The undocumented immigrant charged with shooting and killing Kate Steinle in San Francisco in 2015 was recently acquitted of murder, although he will be deported to Mexico on other felony charges.
Even before this controversial jury verdict, the Steinle case has triggered a political firestorm across the nation’s political spectrum, fueling the debate about the legal and practical issues surrounding sanctuary cities should.
This past summer, a bill called Kate’s Law was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The law would allow enhanced prison sentencing for immigrants who have repeat incidents of illegally entering the U.S. The bill, however, has stalled in the Senate, and the potential for its revival is uncertain.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate’s not guilty verdict has generated a renewed political uproar.
President Donald Trump tweeted that the decision was “disgraceful,” and ICE’s Deputy Director Tom Homan called San Francisco’s sanctuary city status “a blatant threat to public safety.”
Steinle’s family was not present when the verdict was read.
What exactly happened to cause uproar?
The Tragic Tale of Kate Steinle and Jose Ines Garcia Zarate
On July 1, 2015, 32-year-old Kate Steinle was walking with her father on Pier 14 in San Francisco. Suddenly, a bullet from a Sig Sauer .40-caliber handgun shot through her back and pierced her aorta. Two hours later, Steinle died in a local hospital. Mexican citizen Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45, a man who has had a long-standing problem with non-violent crimes, was charged with murder, involuntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon, and other violations in connection with Steinle’s death.
Known by several aliases, Garcia Zarate had been released from jail about 10 weeks before the killing, where he had been held on drug charges. San Francisco authorities did not report his release to the U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which reportedly had been trying to deport Garcia Zarate but had neglected to present a detainer warrant to local authorities.
At the time of the shooting, Garcia Zarate was homeless and wandering around the area. Video at Pier 14 showed Garcia Zarate running away from the scene. His hand was covered with gunshot residue, which was discovered upon his arrest.
Garcia Zarate’s attorney said that his client found the cloth-wrapped gun at the pier and it discharged by accident when he unwrapped it. However, when Garcia Zarate was questioned by police, he admitted to aiming the gun at a seal. He said the gun fired when he stepped on it. After the gun discharged, he threw it into the San Francisco Bay. The gun had been stolen four days earlier from a Bureau of Land Management ranger vehicle parked near the pier.
Throughout the month-long trial, Garcia Zarate’s attorney maintained that the firing was an accident and that the bullet ricocheted 80 feet before reaching Steinle. The details surrounding the shooting were intensely debated by both sides, and the jury deliberated six days before reaching their final decision.
On Nov. 30 Garcia Zarate was acquitted of all the charges relating to Steinle death but was found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm, which carries a three-year prison sentence.
Federal officials will report him back to Mexico. This deportation will be Garcia Zarate’s sixth from the U.S.
What the Steinle Case Says about the State of Illegal Immigration and Sanctuary Cities
This case sparked a national discussion because San Francisco is known as a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants like Garcia Zarate. That means local law enforcement officers have decided they do not have a responsibility to enforce immigration laws, which they consider to be under ICE’s jurisdiction.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stated that the city of San Francisco bears the blame for the Steinle killing because of its status as a sanctuary city.
Other political conservatives have joined this politicized clamor by charging that Steinle’s death would not have occurred if the San Francisco police had turned Garcia Zarate over to ICE rather than releasing him from jail.
For their part, Kate Steinle’s parents filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco and its sheriff in 2016, but it was dismissed earlier this year. Now they have filed a wrongful death suit against both San Francisco and the federal government.
Despite these accusations and potential legal concerns, the recently deceased San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee released a statement affirming San Francisco as a sanctuary city. However, the city has agreed to cooperate with future detention requests from ICE if the offender has a felony conviction for serious or violent crimes within the past seven years.
Something that should be noted: even if that policy had been in place at the time of the killing, it would not have held Garcia Zarate in jail any longer because he did not have a history of violence.
Immigration law is changing rapidly in the current political climate. If you are facing charges for alleged immigration crimes, enlist the help of an experienced attorney who keeps up with the latest happenings and has a track record of success dealing with these types of offenses. Reach out now for your confidential case review.