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San Francisco DA: Don't Use Steinle Verdict As 'Political Football'

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – While he wasn't in the City Friday, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón spoke to KPIX 5 about the controversial verdict in the Kate Steinle murder trial.

Gascón and his prosecutors have taken a lot of heat for losing the case.

Gascón spoke with KPIX 5 by phone from Los Angeles and addressed some of the criticism his team has taken since the verdict came down.

It seems everyone has an opinion on how the prosecution, led by Diane Knoles, handled this case.

When asked if he would have done anything differently in hindsight, Gascón replied, "The case is was presented professionally. Obviously the jury disagreed with our assertions but, you know, we did our job. And I stand by the work that Diana did and the team. They worked very hard and they did everything that they should have done."

Admittedly, the prosecution may have had an uphill battle. San Francisco has a reputation for pro-defense juries.

"I think that San Francisco has a very smart jury pool and it tends to be more pro-defense often in the way the cases are looked upon," said Gascón. "You know, the juries are going to follow the law the way they see it. That's the way that the system is intended to work and we respect that and I personally respect that."

Gascón said he's been told if you can be a prosecutor in San Francisco, you be a prosecutor anywhere.

Even with sympathetic juries, he said San Francisco has a very low rate of violent crime.

"Obviously when something happens to you personally or a member of your family then, you know, that was 100 percent failure," said Gascón. "But when you're looking globally, you know, especially when you're talking about crimes of violence, San Francisco's a very safe place to be."

The DA said the trial of Garcia Zarate was a murder case, plain and simple.

"It was a murder case as we prosecuted and, you know, we got a verdict on the murder case," said Gascón. "Not the verdict we were hoping for, but the system worked the way that it's intended to work, disappointing as it may be."

And while Gascón has supported San Francisco's sanctuary city law, on Friday he was in no mood to discuss that factor in the case.

"There are other times that we can talk about sanctuary city," said Gascón. "There are other times we can talk about whether it is good or not or what needs to be improved or not. This is not the time."

He said, for now, people should focus on the Steinle family.

"You know, political conversations about other policies concerning immigration and other things can be had on other dates," said Gascón. "Let's just not use this as the reason for those conversations. I think it is extremely disrespectful to a family that is going through a tremendous amount of pain today. I ask our community just to pray for the Steinle family and to not use this as a political football."

But many federal officials are doing just that.

Tomas Homan, the head of Immigration Customs Enforcement, on Friday said even if the shooting was an accident, if not for San Francisco's sanctuary city law, Steinle would be alive.

"They knowingly released a public safety threat that was here in the country illegally, back into the community rather than turning him over to ICE so we can deport him," said Homan. "Sanctuary city policy is the reason this young lady is not with us today."

Between the Trump Administration cracking down on illegal immigration, and headlines about the Steinle verdict in San Francisco, director Homan said sanctuary cities are in for a wave of undocumented immigrants.

"San Francisco is going to be in a lot more trouble in the next few years, because more and more aliens are going to make their way to sanctuary cities," said Homan.

So far, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has refused to talk about the verdict. On Thursday, KPIX 5 got a terse no comment. Friday, the mayor avoided the press at a big public event for world AIDS Day. His only response was a note that read, "The mayor's office is not commenting at this time".

Lee later commented about the Sanctuary City law, telling the Associated Press "San Francisco is and will always be a sanctuary city."

President Trump did not have any reticence about commenting on the verdict.

Thursday evening, he took to Twitter to decry the verdict. After the jury's decision was announced, the president tweeted the verdict was "disgraceful."

Friday morning, he continued to criticize the verdict on Twitter.

In an exclusive new KPIX 5 Survey USA Poll, 61 percent of people surveyed in the Bay Area said they felt the President's comments on the verdict were not helpful, while 25 percent responded that the comments were helpful.

A slight majority of respondent said they want San Francisco to continue being a sanctuary city, with 46 percent offering support versus 42 percent who want SF to abandon its sanctuary city status. 12 percent said they were not sure

But when asked if local police should assist federal authorities in cases involving undocumented immigrants who are suspects in violent crimes, an overwhelming majority of 74 percent said police should support ICE while only 15 percent said police should not help.

When KPIX 5 asked that same question of Oakland voters earlier this week, 62 percent said they wanted police to work with ICE in cases involving violent crimes.

When it comes to the verdict acquitting Garcia Zarate of murder, 50 percent of respondents in the Bay Area said the jury got it wrong. Another 27 percent said it was the right verdict, while 23 percent said they didn't know enough to say.

The racial breakdown was pretty much the same on this question, with about half of whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians disagreeing with the jury.

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