A federal agent’s gun was used to kill Kathryn Steinle in a homicide that is riling the nation’s debate over illegal immigration, according to multiple news outlets Tuesday night.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, multiple Democratic officials — from Sen. Dianne Feinstein to presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton — criticized San Francisco for its sanctuary policies of refusing routine cooperation with federal immigration officials.
Suspect Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who had been deported five times and had a felony record, was freed in March on an old marijuana charge even though Immigration and Customs Enforcement had filed a detainer request with San Francisco law enforcement.
Mrs. Feinstein blasted the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday for releasing Lopez-Sanchez, saying Ms. Steinle would still be alive if the department had notified federal immigration authorities.
“The tragic death of Ms. Steinle could have been avoided if the Sheriff’s Department had notified ICE prior to the release of Mr. Sanchez, which would have allowed ICE to remove him from the country,” Mrs. Feinstein said in a letter to San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee.
The sheriff’s department has said that Lopez-Sanchez was released because ICE failed to produce an arrest warrant or judicial determination as required under San Francisco’s sanctuary city rules.
“I strongly believe that an undocumented individual, convicted of multiple felonies and with a detainer request from ICE, should not have been released,” Mrs. Feinstein said. “We should focus on deporting convicted criminals, not setting them loose on our streets. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I am looking at whether additional federal legislation may be necessary.”
Mrs. Clinton spoke similarly, telling CNN Tuesday in her first sit-down national-press interview since declaring her candidacy that San Francisco was wrong to ignore ICE’s detainer request.
“The city made a mistake, not to deport someone that the federal government strongly felt should be deported,” she said. “So I have absolutely no support for a city that ignores the strong evidence that should be acted on.”
CNN first broke the news about the gun being a federal agent’s gun, citing “a source with knowledge of the investigation,” and The Associated Press and Fox News both later reported similarly.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, citing “sources close to the investigation,” the gun was not the agent’s officially provided weapon. According to the Chronicle, the .40-caliber pistol was reported stolen in a car burglary last month in San Francisco’s downtown area.
It was not clear Tuesday night whether Lopez-Sanchez was that burglar or, if not, how exactly he acquired the gun.
Lopez-Sanchez told KGO-TV in a jailhouse interview that he shot Ms. Steinle accidentally when a gun he found wrapped in a T-shirt went off, and that he cannot remember the details because he had taken sleeping pills.
Also Tuesday, Lopez-Sanchez pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and weapons charges in the case. His bail was set at $5 million, which means he will stay in jail until the murder trial, where he faces a possible sentence of life imprisonment.
Lopez-Sanchez has said he came to San Francisco because he knew local police would not turn him over for deportation because of the city’s sanctuary policy, which has caused Republicans to blame these policies adopted by liberal enclaves nationwide.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, announced Tuesday he would bring Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson before his committee next week to answer questions on the matter.
Philip Miller, an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also blamed San Francisco at a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Homeland Security committee, saying city officials there did not honor a federal request to keep Lopez-Sanchez in custody.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has defended his office’s decision, saying ICE should have issued an arrest warrant. Mr. Miller declined after the hearing to comment on that assertion.
• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.