Sanctuary Cities

Jose Garcia-Zarate, at Center of "Sanctuary City" Controversy, Acquitted on Murder and Manslaughter Charges


When a bullet fired from a gun in the hands of Jose Garcia-Zarate, a non-citizen in the U.S. who had been arrested and deported multiple times, ricocheted off the ground and killed sightseer Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier in July 2015, it set off a national debate, which then-candidate Donald Trump inflamed, over the merits or demerits of certain cities' policies of not actively enforcing federal U.S. immigration law or cooperating in handing over illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

Defense Lawyer Matt Gonzalez
Laura A. Oda/TNS/Newscom

If Garcia-Zarate had been deported again (he had already been five times) as federal law insisted he should have been (he had been recently released from San Francisco city custody on a warrant regarding fleeing from an old marijuana charge from 1995, moved to them from federal custody for felony illegal re-entry to the U.S.) prior to Steinle's being shot, went the argument, she would still be alive.

Today after six days of deliberation, a Superior Court jury in San Francisco acquitted Garcia-Zarate on murder, manslaughter, and assault charges, finding him guilty only on a lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

That carries a minimum sentence of 16 months, according to this Courthouse News report by Dave Tartre. The maximum sentence he faces is three years, according to a detailed report on the outcome from Vivian Ho at the San Francisco Chronicle.

The jury seemed to have been convinced by defense arguments that Garcia-Zarate had no direct intention of firing the .40-caliber Sig Sauer pistol that he found that day on the waterfront, four days after it had been stolen from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger's car nearby.

The defense insisted, as per the Chronicle, that Garcia-Zarate, "who had a history of drug crimes but no record of violence, found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt or cloth under his seat on the pier just seconds before it discharged in his hands." His public defenders insisted he "had never handled a gun and was scared by the noise, prompting him to fling the weapon into the bay, where a diver fished it out a day later."

Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia for the prosecution insisted in closing arguments that Garcia-Zarate was playing "his own secret game of Russian roulette." The defense on the contrary painted the incident as pure accident, and the jury accepted that interpretation. Even the involuntary manslaughter charge would require the jury's belief that he had been acting recklessly.

I wrote in July 2015 critiquing Rand Paul's unlibertarian approach to the sanctuary city issue in the wake of Steinle's death, noting that:

as Nick Gillespie pointed out last week, despite immigration restrictionist fantasies that illegal immigrants = crime wave, a sanctuary city such as San Francisco…has a lower murder rate than many comparable non-sanctuary cities. Much-touted increased deportations of "criminal immigrants" are much more often about violators of traffic laws, not laws against person or property. Higher rates of immigration do not equal higher rates of actual crime.

It's curious for Rand Paul, or any Republican, to get outraged in this case that laws exist that, if more toughly enforced, could potentially have saved a life—even though in the staggeringly vast majority of cases enforcing deportation laws would save no lives but but merely bedevil or harm someone trying to peacefully live and sell his labor or services to others.

A selection of Reason TV videos on the facts about sanctuary cities can be found here, concluding that "New immigrants, including illegal immigrants, are less likely to commit violent or property crimes than U.S. citizens, and there's little evidence that crime rates are higher in sanctuary cities than in non-sanctuary cities."

UPDATE: Associated Press tweeting that Garcia-Zarate will now be deported (again), and President Trump tweets his predictable dismay: "disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case! No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration".