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Commentary by Sen. Sharon Runner
| Thursday, Mar 31, 2016
Sen. Sharon Runner

Sen. Sharon Runner

Last year, Californians were gripped by the heartbreaking death of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco. As the facts surrounding the case were released, it became all too clear that this tragedy was preventable. I introduced Senate Bill 1077, to ensure that dangerous felons who enter the U.S. illegally are not allowed to avoid deportation through the loophole discovered in Kathryn Steinle’s case.

In July of last year, 32 year-old Kathryn Steinle was walking with her father on Pier 14 in San Francisco when she was shot and killed by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a career criminal with seven felony convictions who had been previously deported five times.

Lopez-Sanchez should not have been in San Francisco on the day of the shooting. After completing a sentence at the federal prison in Victorville he was facing his sixth deportation, when the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office disrupted the process without good cause. The Sheriff’s Department requested custody of Lopez-Sanchez because of a 20 year-old warrant for sale of marijuana and arranged to have him transported to San Francisco at public expense before considering whether the case would actually be tried.

Not surprisingly, the very next day the San Francisco District Attorney declined to prosecute Lopez-Sanchez on the decades old marijuana charge.

After realizing that the County was not planning to prosecute Lopez-Sanchez, the Sheriff’s Department decided not to honor the request that he be returned to federal custody for deportation. The San Francisco Sheriff felt his department could take custody of Lopez-Sanchez without any legitimate public purpose but could not return him, even though it was requested by Federal authorities.

Lopez-Sanchez was then released into a community where he would not have been except for the completely unnecessary intervention by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.

The provisions of SB 1077 are vitally important; they eliminate a process that allows dangerous felons, like Lopez-Sanchez, back onto our streets. SB 1077 would prevent this situation from happening again by requiring law enforcement to verify the District Attorney’s intent to prosecute a felony charge before moving an inmate from federal custody, not after. It is a thoughtful, common sense approach that will apply uniformly to all local jurisdictions in California.

The action of the San Francisco Sheriff had the same impact as digging an escape tunnel under the cell holding Lopez-Sanchez. Senseless killings are always difficult to accept, but Katherine Steinle’s death is particularly appalling because it was so easily avoidable.

I introduced this bill along with Senator Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) to prevent the events that led to the shooting in San Francisco from happening again. It is essential for the legislature to act with urgency to address the unnecessary process that led to the tragic and totally avoidable death of Kathryn Steinle.

The State of California and our local jurisdictions should not be in the business of rescuing convicted felons from the Federal Government, the policy behind SB 1077 makes that clear. The State Legislature needs to act before more innocent lives are lost.

 

Sharon Runner represents California’s 21st Senate District, which includes communities in the Santa Clarita, Antelope and Victor valleys.

 

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