SAN FRANCISCO — President Donald Trump slammed what he called a “disgraceful verdict” in the 2015 shooting death of Kate Steinle by an undocumented immigrant, a crime he seized on during his presidential campaign as part of his call for tougher immigration policies.
“The Kate Steinle killer came back and back over the weakly protected Obama border, always committing crimes and being violent, and yet this info was not used in court. His exoneration is a complete travesty of justice. BUILD THE WALL!” he tweeted Friday morning in the wake of a jury’s acquittal of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who had been deported five times before the shooting.
“No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration,” the President tweeted hours after the verdict.
A jury acquitted Garcia Zarate of murder and involuntary manslaughter charges, as well as assault with a firearm. Garcia Zarate was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, however. His attorneys claimed the shooting was accidental. The Justice Department is considering bringing federal charges against Garcia Zarate, according to spokesperson Sarah Flores. All available federal options are on the table, CNN is told.
In particular, on the campaign trail, Trump often cited Steinle’s death as a warning against so-called sanctuary cities. The term loosely refers to jurisdictions that in some way do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. The stated reasons vary, from protecting undocumented immigrants to preserving local law enforcement’s ability to gain the trust and cooperation of communities. Some jurisdictions have also been barred by the courts from complying with certain federal requests.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions condemned San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy in the wake of the not-guilty verdict.
Sessions has been critical of sanctuary cities during his tenure as attorney general, and several cities have pursed legal action against the Department of Justice in response.
The US attorney general pushed back after the acquittal, calling Steinle’s death “preventable” and blaming the sanctuary city policy.
“San Francisco’s decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle,” Sessions said in a statement.
“While the State of California sought a murder charge for the man who caused Ms. Steinle’s death — a man who would not have been on the streets of San Francisco if the city simply honored an ICE detainer — the people ultimately convicted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm,” Sessions said.
Steinle’s story has been prominent in Republicans’ push for immigration reform — including a bill passed by the House this summer titled “Kate’s Law,” which creates harsher punishments for illegal re-entry into the US.
“The Department of Justice will continue to ensure that all jurisdictions place the safety and security of their communities above the convenience of criminal aliens,” Sessions said in Thursday’s statement. “I urge the leaders of the nation’s communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers.”
Speaking after the verdict, Garcia Zarate’s chief defense attorney, Matt Gonzalez, noted not only Sessions’ previous comments on the case but also sharply warned Trump and others in his administration against commenting on the outcome, equating the case to the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russians.
“For those who might criticize the verdict, there are a number of people that have commented on this case in the last couple years, the attorney general of the United States, the President and the Vice President of the United States (Mike Pence),” Gonzalez said, “let me just remind them that they are themselves under investigation by a special prosecutor in Washington DC, and they may themselves, soon avail themselves of the presumptions of innocence and the beyond a reasonable doubt standard and so I would ask them to reflect on that before they comment or disparage the result in this case.”
In June, the House of Representatives passed “Kate’s Law,” a measure named for the victim that would increase maximum prison penalties for immigrants caught repeatedly entering the United States illegally. But it’s unlikely to have enough votes to pass the Senate, which struggled with Kate’s Law last year.