Body Politic: Tragedy and Blame

Written by Adriel Hampton. Posted in Crime, Immigration, News, Politics

Tagged: , , , , ,

Published on July 12, 2015 with 20 Comments

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi held a press conference, 7/10/15, to "set the record straight" over the shooting death of Kate Steinle by convicted, undocumented felon, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez on July 1. Photos by Luke Thomas.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi held a press conference, 7/10/15, to “set the record straight” over the shooting death of Kate Steinle by undocumented felon, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, on July 1. Photos by Luke Thomas.

By Adriel Hampton

July 12, 2015

Random violence captures our social conscience like nothing else, and random violence in liberal San Francisco is especially attractive when it allows pundits and Republican presidential candidates to attack immigrants and progressive lawmakers.

The killing of Kate Steinle on July 1 has also enforced rifts in the City’s own body politic, with legislators and executives scrambling to assign blame and to continue old scores. Mayor Ed Lee and former Mayor Willie Brown, in the Sunday Chronicle, have both joined the national right in blaming Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who’s on the ballot this November, for the killing – even as a widely supported City law passed in 2013 guided his department’s actions.

Under local law, release of alleged killer Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez without notification to immigration officials was a routine matter. He was, before July 1, a non-violent felon and undocumented immigrant brought to San Francisco after release from federal prison to clear a 20-year-old drug charge. One of many unique cases that local authorities throughout California and other states routinely process without regard to immigration status.

Steinle’s death, and the on-camera interview in which Lopez-Sanchez admits to killing her, has conservative media in uproar.  But while some local politicians are responding with calls for reform, the 2013 “Due Process Ordinance for All” ordinance was originally even more permissive. Late amendments supported by the Mayor and some supervisors – and passed by the full board – carved out exemptions for violent felonies within seven years plus probable cause to believe the individual has committed another violent felony.

The Body Politic spoke Friday with Supervisor John Avalos, author of the 2013 law written in reaction to Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy of requesting 48-hour pre-release holds of undocumented immigrants flagged in fingerprint screens.

Avalos said Lopez-Sanchez – not guilty of any violent felony and having served his time – was just one of 10,000 ICE detainers that have been recently ignored in California, each with its own unique characteristics. The law was intended to ensure that law enforcement in San Francisco does not hold individuals solely based on immigration status, which stakeholders argue leads to less cooperation and trust in law enforcement among immigrant communities, and a resulting decline in public safety. (See “Sanctuary Cities are Safer” in Mother Jones.)

Avalos said he has not seen or heard any proposed changes in the law that would have affected Lopez-Sanchez’s release without gutting the public policy intent.

“It would actually create a huge loophole that would undermine the effectiveness of the ordinance itself,” Avalos said. “I don’t understand why we would roll back law because of this one incident.”

Early Friday, scores of scribblers, TV reporters, photographers and video cameramen crowded into Mirkarimi’s press briefing room to pepper the jailer-in-chief with what-ifs. Mirkarimi, a former legislator, offered documents and a narrative to support his office’s handling of Lopez-Sanchez’s release. A deputy cannot, Mirkarimi said, make discretionary judgements about who to call ICE on – they must follow procedures based on the “mesh and sync” of local, state and federal laws. The Due Process Ordinance leans on a federal decision that local law enforcement may actually be liable for following ICE’s extrajudicial detainer requests. City law states that ICE must issue its own warrant or judicial order of removal in order for local law enforcement to take any action.

Mirkarimi also criticized federal authorities for not deporting Lopez-Sanchez directly from federal prison in Victorville.

ICE, “do your job,” Mirkarimi said.

Lopez-Sanchez was instead referred to San Francisco on a 20-year old warrant for drug charges, obligating Mirkarimi’s office to transport Lopez-Sanchez to the City for resolution of his case. The charges were not pursued and Sanchez was released.

Mirkarimi proposed work to resolve conflicts between local law, Constitutional protections and ICE compliance, review and possible purging of stale felony warrants like the one that brought Lopez-Sanchez back to San Francisco, and legislative direction from the mayor and supervisors.

“Our laws apply to citizens and non-citizens alike,” Avalos said. “It’s not in [local law enforcement’s] purview to deport people.”

This case has grabbed national attention, and it’s also likely to figure into local elections. Surely headlines will be reprinted and mailed to tens of thousands of voters by political consultants and their funders just as opportunistic as Donald Trump.

Should public policy be determined by process or by punditry? And where were the local critics when this law was being voted on and signed by Mayor Lee? (A file presented by Mirkarimi has just a handful of public comments on the law – including support for the more liberal original version, support from the Public Defender, and just two angry emails.) Supporters packed the board chambers at the time.

From our Facebook perches, how much do we follow the lawmaking process outside of the crushing force of public opinion shaped by tragedies such as Ms. Steinle’s death? So many of us simply leave our lawmakers to their business, until the cut strikes close.

Adriel Hampton

Adriel Hampton is a writer, investigator, strategic consultant and mindfulness practitioner. He runs The Adriel Hampton Group Ltd. in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and was a founding member of NationBuilder. Adriel is founder emeritus of SF Tech Dems and a board member at Legination Inc. Before joining NationBuilder, Adriel worked for SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and for the SF Examiner, Hayward Daily Review and Lodi News-Sentinel. He also founded SF City Camp and Gov 2.0 Radio, and, in 2009, ran for Congress in the East Bay.

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Comments for Body Politic: Tragedy and Blame are now closed.

  1. Bye Bye you ASSHOLE

  2. This is my take on the Lopez-Sanchez matter.

    When this drama began, Mr. Lopez-Sanchez was not a free citizen walking the streets of San Francisco. He was scheduled for release from federal prison in southern California. Given that information, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began processing a reinstatement of removal order (deportation).

    The Sheriff’s Department specifically requested the transfer of five-time deportee and seven-time convicted felon Lopez-Sanchez to their custody upon release from federal prison on the basis of a 20-year old drug charge. As a former investigator for the DA’s office, Mirkarimi knew or should have known that the DA almost never prosecutes such warrants. In fact, Mirkarimi later admitted this to reporters. This begs the question as to why he would request that Lopez-Sanchez be transferred from federal custody to the Sheriff’s custody if he knew that he would not be prosecuted? Did he confer with the DA before requesting the transfer? If not, why not? In sum, it was a mistake or negligence on the Sheriff’s part to even ask that Lopez-Sanchez be transferred. If he hadn’t, Lopez-Sanchez would have been deported.

    It was not until after Lopez-Sanchez was delivered to San Francisco County custody that ICE was notified of the transfer. ICE then issued a detention request for Lopez-Sanchez. That request simply asked for notification prior to Lopez-Sanchez’s release, not that he be detained for an extended period of time. Why didn’t the Sheriff’s Department make a simple phone call to the ICE notifying them that Lopez-Sanchez was going to be released? Perhaps with notification, the ICE could have asked the Court for a judicial determination of probable cause or sought an arrest warrant. Instead, Lopez-Sanchez was released onto the streets of San Francisco.

    The rest is history.

    • The Federal Bureau of Prisons initiated the transfer of Lopez-Sanchez to SF.

      “Mirkarimi said that when his office was contacted by the Federal Bureau
      of Prisons in Victorville on March 23 inquiring about a bench warrant
      out of San Francisco stemming from Lopez-Sanchez’s arrest for selling
      $20 worth of marijuana at United Nations Plaza in 1995, his office
      confirmed the warrant and Lopez-Sanchez was transferred from federal
      prison to San Francisco County Jail.”

      The question then becomes, why would the FBP consider transferring a convicted, undocumented felon to a Sanctuary City when they could have just transferred Lopez-Sanchez to ICE for deportation?

      • I doubt the FBP is fully acquainted with sanctuary city policies. Perhaps, the FBP was communicating with another agency something the Sheriff’s Department failed to do in this case.

        • I think it’s clear the FBP erred. Had the FBP transferred Lopez-Sanchez to ICE….

    • This article and Mr. Stone’s elaborate recitation of the ruling political parties’ talking points both fail to include two very significant pieces of the story.

      First and foremost is the investigation of where and how Lopez-Sanchez came to be in possession of the gun he used in the murder. Did he really find the gun wrapped in a t-shirt under a bench? If so, WTF is going on where guns are randomly available under seats on the streets of SF? Especially guns that belong to federal agents. There’s no denying the problem of gun violence in the USA and more attention needs to be placed on this.

      Second, the problem of immigration isn’t primarily sanctuary laws. Businesses, agriculture, and corporations rely on “illegal” immigrant labor and openly admit they could not function without them. As always, big money fuels the lack of immigration reform so badly needed. After all, it was the lack of political will for this reform that allowed Lopez-Sanchez to cross the border so many times, not a sanctuary city law.

      • “ruling parties’ talking points”
        Hope, was there anything in my “recitation” that was factually incorrect?

        • It is factually incomplete, leading to the back and forth, endless argument of who should have done the better job getting Lopez-Sanchez deported. It is a distraction from addressing the horrible gun violence that goes on every day (as I write this the media is filled with another movie theater shooting story) and from the lack of political will to appropriately reform immigration policy on both sides of the aisle that would actually address the deportation issue.

      • Very acute, Hope. Thank you.

  3. This reminds me, in one way, of the Blue Angels Air Show. No one’s going to complain till one of them crashes in San Francisco and then voters will want to slam on officials for letting it happen.

  4. Meanwhile Vicki Hennessy watches on the sidelines as Mirkarimi scuttles his own campaign ship.

    • Oh Ralph, now you’re gonna join Donald Trump in this?

      • Ann, instead of recognizing the truth of my observation or discussing it, you took the low road. Donald Trump — come on!

        • Ralph, there is no verifiable truth there. “Vicki Hennessy watches on the sidelines as Mirkarimi scuttles his own campaign.” That is not a verifiable statement. It’s just a subjective, nasty remark very much like most of Donald Trump’s.

  5. Thanks, Adriel for writing this.

  6. Good summary, dispassionate, complete. Nonetheless the Chronicle will raise a shitstorm. It won’t be the first time.They are worse demagogues than Trump because they are sneakier and more sophisticated. I wish there was some way to bring them to heel. Yellow journalists from the get-go.

  7. I wouldn’t be surprised if EL Chapo ends up in San Francisco.

    • I’m counting on him to come and take care of Donald Trump.

      • The violent the left is back , they want their illegal foot soldiers to do for them though.

  8. “…Has conservative media in an uproar”

    How about – has human beings in an uproar?