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Former ICE Head: Sheriff 'Just Making Excuses' In Fatal Shooting Of Woman On San Francisco Pier

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A former Immigration and Customs Enforcement official has launched the latest salvo in the finger-pointing war over the case of the illegal immigrant who allegedly shot and killed a woman at San Francisco Pier 14.

The former ICE official accused Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi of making excuses, and said and it's the city of San Francisco that needs to change – not ICE.

Monday, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi laid the blame for the killing of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle on Pier 14 on ICE for setting the rules that let suspect Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez go free. Sanchez is the undocumented felon charged in Steinle's murder.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez
Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez enters a San Francisco courtroom flanked by Public Defender Jeff Adachi and an interpreter, July 7, 2015. (CBS)

The 45-year-old Lopez-Sanchez had seven felony convictions, but none recent and none violent when he was released by San Francisco authorities despite an immigration hold on the Mexican national who had been deported five times before.

Mirkarimi said the City and County had no choice but to let Sanchez walk. He said he needed a court order or a warrant, and in Sanchez's case, ICE only asked for a detainer, which under city law, wasn't good enough.

"If ICE does not provide the proper legal instrument, they are jeopardizing the city's ability to detain somebody against their will," he said. "We need ICE to step up."

Former ICE director Julie Myers Wood disagreed.

"I think the Sheriff is wrong. We are not asking for a legal instrument to pick up the phone and let ICE know that they are holding a criminal foreign national," she said. "There's no need for a legal instrument for that."

"The civil immigration is not designed to get warrants in every single case," said Myers Wood. "Last year I issued over 200,000 detainers. If we had to get arrest warrants for every single one of them …it would bog down the system."

Myers Wood added, "I think he's making excuses because he doesn't want to cooperate."

Kathryn Steinle
Kathryn Steinle (Family photo/CBS)

Senator Dianne Feinstein joined the conversation, saying in a statement, "I strongly believe an undocumented individual, convicted of multiple felonies and with a detainer request from ICE, should not have been released. We should focus on convicting criminals, not setting them loose on our streets."

Feinstein has asked San Francisco to join Homeland Security's Priority Enforcement Program. PEP helps state and local law enforcement take custody of people who pose a threat to public safety before they are let back on the street. Myers Wood said she would support that effort.

It was Feinstein who signed the bill that designated San Francisco as a 'sanctuary city' when she was mayor in the 80's. That bill, dubbed the 'City and County Refuge Ordinance' barred city employees from helping federal immigration enforcement efforts unless there was a court order or state law forcing them to do so. Oakland and San Jose have similar bills.

"I applaud any action for the two sides to come together," said Myers Wood. "I recognize this has been a very difficult issue for many communities. San Francisco has been on the 'restrictive' end of this, and there are many sanctuary cities that have changed their policies and worked with ICE in a cooperative way, but still remain sanctuaries to some extent."

Myers Wood said the best thing that could happen is that city leaders and ICE come together and come up with a solution that works for both sides, before any additional federal laws are required.

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