A judge held Friday that a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a woman killed by an illegal immigrant with a stolen federal officer’s service weapon could proceed.
U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero allowed part of the liability suit against the federal government for the 2015 death of Kate Steinle to move forward because a Bureau of Land Management ranger left his pistol in a backpack that was stolen from inside his vehicle and later used in her death.
While the government sought to dismiss the case as a whole last November by citing sovereign immunity, Spero held the statute that permits private parties to sue the U.S. government — the Federal Tort Claims Act — applied.
He felt there was sufficient evidence to support a claim that leaving a loaded gun in a backpack visible on the seat of an unattended vehicle in a high-crime area of San Francisco created a foreseeable risk of harm.
“Plaintiffs’ complaint adequately states a claim under California common law that the BLM ranger had a duty to properly secure the handgun, that the ranger breached that duty by leaving the loaded gun in an unattended vehicle, that the failure to secure the handgun proximately caused Steinle‘s death, and that Plaintiffs suffered damages as a result,” wrote Spero, noting the negligence claim against the government under the FTCA could proceed.
The suit, filed last March by the slain woman’s mother and father in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims general and public entity negligence in the wrongful death of Steinle, naming a number of federal agencies, the City and County of San Francisco, and then-Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi as defendants.
The filing argues the tragedy was the by-product of a combination of abuse of authority by Mirkarimi, failure to act by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and failure by BLM to properly secure the gun used by a repeat drug felon to kill an innocent woman.
Spero dismissed all of the claims except for the one against BLM.
Steinle’s alleged killer, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, 46, a Mexican national with at least seven felonies and five deportations under his belt, pleaded not guilty in San Francisco Superior Court in 2015 and maintains he found the gun in a T-shirt on a bench. This was just weeks after he was briefly in custody of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department but released despite a request to detain him further by ICE officials due to a memo issued by Mirkarimi to refuse requests from the federal agency.
Lopez-Sanchez’s murder trial is set to begin in a San Francisco Superior Court on Feb. 17.