The parents of Kathryn Steinle, a woman killed by a gunshot wound near Pier 14 in San Francisco in July 2015, cannot sue the City of San Francisco for negligence, essentially because of the random nature of the event, but they can sue the federal government according to a federal judge because the weapon that killed Steinle belonged to a ranger who allegedly left it unsecured in an unlocked car.
Liz Sullivan and Jim Steinle of Livermore filed the wrongful death lawsuit in September 2015 and lawyers for the City of San Francisco moved to dismiss the suit in August of 2016. US government officials asked Steinle's parents to dismiss the wrongful death lawsuit in early December, as KRON 4 reported at the time. Now, US Magistrate Joseph Spero has sided with San Francisco, dismissing the parents' claims against the city according to the Chronicle in rulings which the parents could still appeal.
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez has been charged with murder in Steinle's death but his public defenders have sought to dismiss those chargers as they claim that the shooting was accidental and a ricochet, as corroborated by forensic science consultant James Norris. “If you were trying to shoot somebody, this is not the way to shoot somebody,” he testified according to the Examiner.
Lopez-Sanchez was deported to Mexico five times and had recently spent 46 months in federal prison for illegally re-entering the US but was given over to San Francisco on a prior marijuana charge that was dropped. He was released under then-Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi despite immigration officials' request to hold him, citing an interpretation of San Francisco's sanctuary city ordinance. Months later, Steinle was shot and killed — Lopez-Sanchez says he discovered the gun but did not steal it. Originally, Sanchez said that he found the weapon after discovering sleeping pills in a dumpster, which he consumed, and then was taking aim at seals, but he has later said that the gun, wrapped in a T-shirt, went off when he picked it up.
The magistrate has ruled that Mirkarimi didn't need to notify the federal government about Lopez-Sanchez, because federal officials already knew he was undocumented and in local custody. As for arguments that Lopez-Sanchez's release endangered Steinle and the public, the magistrate relied on the precedent of prior rulings that a government agency isn't responsible for harm done by inmates it releases unless that agency has knowledge of a specific threat to a victim. “Nothing in this case distinguished Steinle from the general public," Judge Spero ruled.
Steinle's parents may still be able to prove the federal government was negligent as its employee allegedly didn't secure the weapon in the shooting. But if Lopez-Sanchez didn't, indeed, steal the gun, Spero indicated that it's unclear what the decision of a California court might be on the issue of negligence.