A bitter dispute over who bears responsibility for the release of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the five times-deported illegal alien who fatally shot Kathryn Steinle last week in San Francisco, has taken a surprise twist with the revelation that the San Francisco sheriff’s department asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons for custody of the 45-year-old Mexican national back in March.
The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the San Francisco sheriff’s department, which is headed by progressive sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, submitted a letter to the Bureau of Prisons on March 23 asking to be notified “when [Lopez-Sanchez is ready for our pick-up.”
Lopez-Sanchez was at the end of a 46-month sentence in a federal prison in Victorville, Cal. for felony illegal re-entry. But San Francisco had a $5,000 bench warrant from 1995 on Lopez-Sanchez for a marijuana possession for sale case, and the sheriff’s department sought to take custody of him.
“Also, please notify us if the hold cannot be placed or the named subject is released to another jurisdiction prior to our receipt,” an official with the sheriff’s warrant bureau requested in the letter to the Bureau of Prisons.
On March 26, the federal agency handed Lopez-Sanchez over to the sheriff’s department. The local agency took him into custody and cleared him of the marijuana charge the next day. On that same day, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was notified electronically that Lopez-Sanchez, who had used more than 30 aliases since his first known entry into the U.S. in 1991, was in the sheriff’s custody. Seeking to deport Lopez-Sanchez for a sixth time, ICE filed a detainer request to be notified upon the seven-time felon’s release.
But the sheriff’s department ignored that request because San Francisco is a sanctuary city. That means that local agencies are prohibited from aiding federal immigration agencies. Lopez-Sanchez was then released by the sheriff’s department on April 15. He shot the 32-year-old Steinle on July 1 while she was walking with her father and a friend on Pier 14.
That timeline of Lopez-Sanchez’s release grossly undermines claims made by Mirkarimi, a former city supervisor, and other San Francisco city leaders who have sought to deflect blame amid massive public and political backlash.
In fact, Mirkarimi, a former Green Party member who became a Democrat in 2010, has said that ICE handed Lopez-Sanchez over to the sheriff’s department in the first place. He even questioned why the agency would do that if it sought to deport him.
“We’re trying to understand why ICE returned Sanchez to San Francisco on 20-year-old marijuana possession charge in a city that really doesn’t even prosecute marijuana possession…and knowing that he had been deported and illegally entered the country,” Mirkarimi said Tuesday.
But ICE has denied that claim, and the letter revealed by The Chronicle backs the federal agency’s account.
The Chronicle reveals what could be another embarrassing blow for the sheriff’s department. It cites sources familiar with the case who say that Lopez-Sanchez was held in custody from March 27 until April 15 — even after his marijuana charges were dropped — because sheriff’s deputies sought input from the legal department on whether or not to honor ICE’s detainer request.
According to ICE, between Jan. 1, 2014, and June 19, 2015, there have been 10,516 detainers declined in California and 17,193 detainers declined nationwide.