San Francisco sheriff, U.S. officials clash over immigrant suspect's release

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 10, 2015 10:08 PM

By Emmett Berg

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The San Francisco sheriff and federal immigration officials traded accusations on Friday over who was responsible for the release from custody of a five-time deported Mexican immigrant accused of shooting to death a woman at a tourist site.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's department released from jail Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez in April despite a request from federal officials that the illegal immigrant be held until they could pick him up.

Mirkarimi defended that action, saying at a news conference the detainer request from U.S. immigration authorities was a "misnomer for a legal document."

His department would have required a warrant or a judicial order to hold Lopez-Sanchez for potential deportation, he added, despite assertions to the contrary from federal officials.

Lopez-Sanchez, who was deported from the United States five times, has been charged with murder for the July 1 shooting of Kathryn Steinle, 32, at a San Francisco tourist site. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held on $5 million bail.

The case attracted national attention after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized San Francisco for local laws limiting assistance to federal immigration authorities aiming to deport individuals arrested for crimes.

Some other U.S. cities have similar policies.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a statement on Friday said if the agency had been notified Lopez-Sanchez would be released from jail, federal agents would have taken him into custody and deported him.

"We strongly disagree with the sheriff's characterization of the facts in this case," it said.

"In fact, despite a formal request from ICE to the Sheriff's Department seeking notification of his impending release, the individual was released without notifying ICE."

Mirkarimi on Friday presented phone logs of a March call from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to his department seeking to confirm an outstanding San Francisco warrant for Lopez-Sanchez in connection with his 1995 failure to appear in court on a charge of possessing marijuana with intent to distribute.

The communication led to Lopez-Sanchez's transfer from a federal prison, where the Mexican national was held for illegally entering the United States, to the San Francisco jail system, but Mirkarimi blamed federal officials for initiating the move.

Mirkarimi said "it is just odd to transfer on a bench warrant to a city that rarely prosecutes for marijuana."

Lopez-Sanchez's April release from the San Francisco jail followed a decision by local prosecutors not to pursue the marijuana charges.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Beech)