The loved ones of a woman killed by an illegal immigrant in 2015 have suffered another devastating loss — in a courtroom.
On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court's decision to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of Kathryn "Kate" Steinle against the city of San Francisco, saying the city's "sanctuary" status could not be the basis for liability regarding their daughter's death.
What are the details?
Steinle was fatally shot while strolling with her father near a San Francisco pier by Jose Ines Garcia Zarate — a repeat felon previously deported five times — who goes by several aliases. The gun Zarate used was stolen from a federal employee who had allegedly left the firearm in an unlocked vehicle.
Zarate killed Steinle shortly after he re-emerged into society from a 46-month prison term. The victim's parents — James Steinle and Elizabeth Sullivan — sued the city and county of San Francisco, citing a memorandum issued by former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi which explicitly instructed local law enforcement not to notify ICE when an illegal immigrant offender was released from custody. The plaintiffs argued their daughter would still be alive if Zarate had not been granted sanctuary under Mirkarimi's policies.
The plaintiffs also sued the federal government, alleging negligence on behalf of the employee accused of leaving their government-issued firearm unsecured.
In 2017, a district court dismissed the family's claims, according to CNN.
An appeal to the 9th Circuit resulted in a decision where the court reasoned that San Francisco Administrative Code "simply encourage[s] cooperation; it does not mandate cooperation" between the city and ICE, and therefore no legal missteps occurred when the sheriff released Zarate without notice.
The 9th Circuit went on to defend the sheriff's "discretionary authority" to issue the memorandum granting sanctuary to illegal immigrant offenders upon release. According to the Los Angeles Times, the three-judge panel determined "San Francisco violated no state, local or federal law."
In a concurring opinion, the court wrote, "As the main opinion properly acknowledges, the events underlying this case are tragic. And some of Plaintiffs' claims remain to be litigated in the district court. We hold only that, under California law, the state officials are immune from the suit."
This isn't the first time San Francisco's sanctuary policies have been defended since Steinle's death. Just four months after she was killed, the city's Board of Supervisors proudly reaffirmed its sanctuary status, drawing cheers from the chamber, KCRA-TV reported.
Steinle's killer was acquitted of murder in connection with her death, but found guilty of illegal gun possession. He still faces federal gun charges, and remains behind bars in the U.S. awaiting yet another trial, according to The Associated Press.
The 9th Circuit allowed the plaintiffs' lawsuit against the federal government to move forward.