“Justice was rendered, but it was not served.”
— Jim Steinle
It’s hard to disagree with this heartbroken father. It’s also hard to differ with the president when he says the outcome in the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate for the killing of 32-year-old Kate Steinle was a “travesty” — although it’s clear he seeks to use the term as a weapon to further a flawed immigration agenda. Indeed, the politicization of the Steinle killing is among the reasons this case has been a tragedy and a travesty from the beginning.
The system failed Steinle and her family on multiple levels, concluding with a shocking jury verdict Thursday in which Garcia Zarate, a Mexican national who had been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth, was acquitted of all but the least serious charge against him — being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Garcia Zarate had been released from San Francisco’s jail despite a federal request to have him detained for deportation. Several weeks later, on July 1, 2015, he was sitting in a chair on a San Francisco pier holding a handgun that he said he found wrapped in a towel. The gun went off, striking Kate Steinle in the back as she walked on the pier with her father and a friend.
Did San Francisco Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia ask too much in encouraging the jury to convict him of first-degree murder, claiming, with little supporting evidence, that he came to the pier that day with the gun intending to do harm? Perhaps. Given that the fatal shot ricocheted off the pavement and traveled another 80 feet before striking the victim, a first-degree murder charge seemed like a stretch. Nonetheless, the jury had the option of convicting on second-degree murder, manslaughter or even assault with a deadly weapon but rejected all of these as well. It was a perplexing outcome.
About the only place where jurors succeeded in our view was in following the judge’s orders not to let it become a trial about immigration enforcement and San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy. If only the president and other conservative lawmakers would follow the same instructions. This case cries out for many things. But a wall is not one of them.
There’s no question that Garcia Zarate should not have been on the pier that day. But despite the claims of the president, this is not justification for eliminating “sanctuary” practices. Policies like those adopted by Sonoma County, Santa Rosa and the state — through the “sanctuary state” bill passed in September — give law enforcement officials license to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in the handling of convicted felons like Garcia Zarate.
Yes, some changes are needed, and San Francisco officials say they have corrected the gaps in their practices that allowed the release of Garcia Zarate. But this case requires reflection of many factors. For example, what of the Bureau of Land Management ranger who left a loaded gun unsecured in his car and came back to find his window smashed and the gun stolen? What responsibility does he hold? What of the decision by federal authorities to hand Garcia Zarate over to San Francisco jail in 2015 for trial on a 20-year-old marijuana charge instead of handing him directly over to ICE?