San Francisco Wasn’t a Sanctuary for Kate Steinle

Did the jurors acquit her killer to send a message of disapproval to President Trump?


Flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco, July 17, 2015.
Flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco, July 17, 2015. PHOTO: PAUL CHINN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

If sanctuary policies for illegal immigrants got Kate Steinle killed, did Donald Trump’s harsh anti-immigration rhetoric help pave the way for her assailant’s unexpected acquittal last week on murder, manslaughter and assault charges?

Trying to make sense of Steinle’s horrific death was difficult enough. Now we must process the criminal justice system’s horrifically lenient treatment of her killer. Two years ago, a man with a lengthy criminal record—a man who should not have been in the country in the first place—fired a stolen semiautomatic pistol on a crowded San Francisco pier. The bullet ricocheted off the pavement and into the back of a 32-year-old woman out for a stroll with her father. The shooter then threw the gun into the San Francisco Bay and fled, while his victim died in her father’s arms.

Everyone acknowledges that Jose Ines Garcia Zarate is the man responsible for Steinle’s death, yet the system in place to bring the killer to justice seems far more interested in his well-being than it ever was in hers. At the time of the shooting, Mr. Garcia Zarate had racked up seven felony convictions and been deported from the U.S. five times. His lawyers argued that the stolen gun, which the defendant said he found under a bench, went off by accident. Prosecutors brought several charges. The jury could have found Mr. Garcia Zarate guilty of murder, manslaughter or even assault with a deadly weapon, but it declined to convict on any of those counts. Instead, he was found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He could face up to three years in state prison—a term he may have already satisfied. 

During his race for president against Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump spoke frequently and forcefully about the Steinle case and how local law-enforcement officials deal with the undocumented immigrants they encounter. “My opponent wants sanctuary cities,” he said in his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last year. “But where was the sanctuary for Kate Steinle?”

That question still looms after last week’s verdict given that sanctuary cities like San Francisco, which restrict cooperation between local police and federal immigration authorities, see no need to change their ways. Before the shooting, Mr. Garcia Zarate was in custody and on track to be deported (yet again) but was first transferred to the San Francisco Jail on an outstanding drug-related warrant. After city prosecutors declined to prosecute that case, he was released despite a request from federal agents to hold him for deportation. Which is to say that this wasn’t a mix-up. The San Francisco authorities did not make a mistake. Mr. Garcia Zarate didn’t fall through the cracks. He was released because that was the policy for dealing with illegal aliens, and it’s still the policy. Kate Steinle’s killer would be released again today.

Around 500 cities and counties in the U.S. can be described as illegal immigrant sanctuaries, though the level of cooperation with federal authorities varies. The Department of Homeland Security says that it doesn’t have the manpower to patrol the interior without help from the nation’s 765,000 police officers. Some police departments counter that sanctuary ordinances strengthen relationships between law enforcement and immigrants. If people in a community fear that the police are there to deport them, they are less likely to report crimes and public safety suffers. But isn’t fear of deportation also a deterrent to entering the country illegally? Doesn’t lax enforcement of our immigration laws beget more violations of our immigration laws?

Steinle’s death illustrates the significant trade-offs involved in constructing sanctuary jurisdictions. Americans understandably want immigration policies in place that prioritize the needs and concerns of U.S. citizens, not foreign nationals. In effect, San Francisco’s sanctuary policy prioritized the Garcia Zarates, which is another outrage.

Kate Steinle’s killer is not the poster child for illegal immigration, despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to turn him into one. The research consistently has shown that immigrants here both legally and illegally are less likely than their native counterparts to be arrested and imprisoned. And that holds true whether the immigrant hails from Japan, India or Ecuador. America’s violent-crime rates are driven mostly by Americans. But neither is every immigrant a blameless Dreamer, and too often immigration activists and liberal politicians are as unwilling as the president to make a distinction. 

The San Francisco jurors who went easy on Mr. Garcia Zarate haven’t made public their reasoning, and maybe they never will. But don’t rule out jury nullification. The president is deeply unpopular in the City by the Bay, where less than 10% of voters supported his presidential bid. Kate Steinle may also have been a victim of ideologically driven jurors looking to send a message to the president.

Appeared in the December 6, 2017, print edition.

2 responses to San Francisco Wasn’t a Sanctuary for Kate Steinle

  1. neilmaccallister December 6th, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    Mr. Riley does not like President Trump.

    Mr. Riley did not vote for President Trump.

    Mr. Riley does not want Hillary Clinton held legally accountable for her actions while she was our former-President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State.

    And here, Mr. Riley impeaches our current President, Donald Trump, of being responsible for that San Francisco jury’s painful decision.


    At trial, were the precise elements of the crime charged being met, to the minimum standards required by law?

    Here is some of that discussion, from someone who was both a personally, and an officially responsible witness to the whole trial (an alternate juror):

    “It really does sound as if the prosecutors attempt to press for a murder conviction may have prevented them from focusing on the aspects of the case that could have resulted in a manslaughter conviction.”


    Mr. Riley’s blaming of President Trump (..because Donald Trump advocates that we secure our national borders), for a S.F. District Attorney’s inability (or impossibility) to present a convicting case, is just another instance of ‘imagined news’.


    A more material report, would state:

    “Why was this particular man arrested? ..was it upon the testimony of actual witnesses?” ..what did those witnesses say that they saw?”


    “Is it really possible to fire 3 successive rounds ‘accidently’? ..from a handgun set to ‘single action’?

    ..”and where did the 2 other fired rounds go??”, ..”in the same direction?”
    ..”or in a wide-angled, un-aimed, haphazard array?”


    We don’t blame a rape victim, just because that victim wore pleasant clothing,..

    And we shoulnd’t blame our Commander-in-Cheif, simply because he advises that we post our nation a perimeter guard.

    (Our enacted ‘Bill of Rights’ protects us, the many citizens of our nation. Why then, shouldn’t we enact a perimeter security, to protect that nation?)

    When our Commander-in-Chief advocates that we post a perimeter security, he is but faithfully performing the job that we Americans assigned to him.

    We should stop this constant, and dishonorable, harassment of our employee.

    Yes, we should.


  2. neilmaccallister December 7th, 2017 at 12:26 am

    The whole issue here is this: “Who watches the Watchmen?”


    The American Founders, have argued that it is not a ‘privileged few’ who must defend us, but ALL of us:

    “We have a Republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”


    So, what say you?

    Are you a “Sunshine Patriot”??

    ..or, are you as American as was Dr. Benjamin Franklin??

    “Yes, we must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” 


    Mr. Donald Trump does not ask to be ‘King’, ..just to be unharassed in his performing the tasks which America hired him to (finally!!) get accomplished !!

    The American
    Legislative Branch passed a Federal Law in 1995 that said “The American Embassy in Israel shall be in Jerusalem.”

    And our elected President Donald Trump declares “America needs to listen to Congress, and act upon its laws.”

    Should we NOT act upon our proclamations of Congress??

    (Is Washington D.C. to be a ‘sanctuary city’??)

    That is like announcing a “War on Poverty”, ..and then raising taxes!


    I’ll bet the new embassy in Jerusalem will be “a beautiful thing”!

    Please let me know, if you need a few volunteers to help you mix the concrete!



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