Saturday, April 17, 2021
News + Politics SF sheriff in the depths of media hell

SF sheriff in the depths of media hell


Mirkarimi tried to tell the press what actually happened. You can guess how that went

Sheriff Mirkarimi talks to a hostile press corp. Photo by Santiago Mejia
Sheriff Mirkarimi talks to a hostile press corp. Photo by Santiago Mejia

By Alexis Terrazas

JULY 13, 2015 — As the saga of whether or not San Francisco erred in releasing an undocumented Mexican national who allegedly fatally shot a 32-year-old white woman continues its downward spiral into the various depths of news media hell, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on Friday tried to defend his departments’ position of following the law.

“I find it incredibly sad and incomprehensible that this tragedy is being used as a platform for political gain,” Mirkarimi said at the beginning of the press conference on Friday June 10. “We want to set the record straight.”

Of that he had little success.

As the sheriff, who is up for reelection this November, was grilled by roughly a dozen local, regional and national reporters, Mirkarimi detailed the sheriff department’s chronology of events involving Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the undocumented immigrant felon who allegedly killed Kathryn Steinle at Pier 14 on July 1.

Various Media pundits, journalists, politicians and police agencies have used the killing as ammunition in their attack of San Francisco’s “Sanctuary City” and Due Process for All ordinances, blaming it for Steinle’s death. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein blasted Mayor Ed Lee and Mirkarimi for releasing a convicted, yet nonviolent, felon who had a detainer request from Immigration Customs Enforcement. Lee countered by passing off the blame with his own statement, calling into questions the “common sense” of the sheriff’s department for their lack of communication with other law enforcement agencies.

“The mayor is throwing his own law under the buss, simply trying to walk or run away from the very ordinance he signed into effect,” Mirkarimi said, adding that the mayor is “playing politics with public safety” and being “disingenuous.”

The city’s Sanctuary Ordinance, which was established in 1989 and reaffirmed in 2007 by then-mayor Gavin Newsom, prohibits city employees from aiding Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in arresting or investigating undocumented immigrants. The Due Process for All Ordinance, which was passed by the Board of Supervisors unanimously and signed into law by Mayor Lee in Oct. 2013, prohibits law enforcement officials from detaining individuals on the basis of a civil immigration detainer after they become eligible for release from custody. The ordinance however doesn’t apply to individuals who have previously been convicted of a violent felony within a certain period of time, who are currently charged with a violent felony, or those who may pose a public safety risk.

Fifty out of the 58 counties in California have laws similar to San Francisco’s. And despite being a multiple felon who had been deported five times, none of Lopez-Sanchez’s felonies were violent, a fact that seemed irrelevant to the pool of reporters at the conference.

Lopez-Sanchez Timeline

Here is what actually happened in this case:

San Francisco court issued a bench warrant for the arrest of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez on December 11, 1995, for failing to appear on felony drug charges for possession and sale of marijuana, with a bail set for $5,000. Mirkarimi said that between 1998 and 2011, Lopez-Sanchez was sentenced to federal custody four times, while ICE reported that he has been deported five times.

Mirkarimi said that his office received a phone call on March 23, 2015, from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Victorville requesting confirmation of the outstanding 1995 felony warrant. Following established protocol, the sheriff’s department was obligated to transport Lopez-Sanchez from federal prison to the county jail on March 26 so he could appear in San Francisco Superior Court.

He was booked on the 20-year bench warrant, but there was no active ICE warrant or judicial order, which would be needed to turn him over to ICE. ICE did have a request for a detainer, which has been deemed unconstitutional. Zero detainers have been honored in the first six months of 2015, said Mirkarimi.

In court a day later, the district attorney moved to dismiss the charges against Lopez-Sanchez, which were dismissed.

Between March 27 and April 14, San Francisco deputy sheriffs communicated back and forth with Victorville Federal Prison and confirmed Lopez-Sanchez’s identity and the fact that he had completed his federal sentence and that he had no outstanding warrants or judicial orders. Mirkarimi also noted that ICE on March 26 didn’t provide the sheriff’s department with the necessary warrant or judicial order to hold Lopez-Sanchez for proceedings. The San Francisco Sheriff’s department subsequently, and legally, released Lopez-Sanchez on April 15.

“Mr. Lopez-Sanchez met ICE’s highest priority due to previous felony convictions and prior deportations,” Mirkarimi said. “However as I contend, and will continue to do so, ICE failed to obtain and provide a warrant or judicial order for such deportation proceedings.”

That explanation, however, was greeted with a series of hypothetical scenarios and “what if’s” from reporters.

Why wasn’t state law used? Why was common sense not used in releasing a convicted felon back into the ‘wild?’ Could he have done anything to prevent the death of Kate? If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, would you have picked up the phone and call ICE and say this guy is being released?

To that final question, Mirkarimi said: “One step even better, I would go down to their office on Sansome Street and say ‘do your job.’ Because we’ve been telling them that for 18 months leading up to this very event.”

Mirkarimi noted that ICE may not have the necessary resources and staff to pursue court orders or warrants. “If that’s true, it’s unfortunate for us to be testing the erosion of the constitution.”

Mirkarimi proposed a series of recommendations to avoid something similar from occurring again. One of those recommendations involved exploring the use of an Administrative Law Judge for judicial oversight in ensuring that the Fourth Amendment isn’t violated when dealing with ICE. Another included the possible purging of warrants – as of July 1, 2015, the city has 12,440 outstanding warrants. Mirkarimi expressed seeking help from the mayor and the board when dealing with conflicts between local, state and federal law, and said he was open to amendments.

“I don’t think that Mayor Lee or Donald Trump can waive the constitution. Our policy will continue to reflect the spirit and letter of the law,” Mirkarimi said. “Again, we would honor deportation, we would have to. But a warrant and court order is what helps facilitate that deportation, as ICE firmly knows because they’ve deported him so many times before.”


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. >The law is not meant to apply to those who have already served terms of punishment for past crimes.

    No, sorry. There is nothing in the ordinance that differentates between felons who have done their time and those who haven’t. It just doesn’t exist. Here is the exact text saying that sanctuary protection doesn’t apply to anyone who:

    “has been convicted of a felony committed in violation of the laws of the State of California, which is still considered a felony under state law”

  2. Yeah, except when that “stupidity” is always uni-directional. The Chronicle never seems to write headlines that “unintentionally” smear mod/conservative/corporatists. As long as we’re on the subject of old cliches, here’s one that might be a little bit more apt: “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.”

  3. I mis-read that also and practically pooped my pants. Then I realized it was one of those “eats shoots and leaves” moments.

  4. I’m inclined to believe that Mirikami acted within the law. With regards to the law itself: what possible public benefit could be derived from harboring foreign nationals who have committed felonies and are in the country illegally? Why keep him here?

    I support amnesty and path to legal residency for people who came here illegally because they wanted a better life. Pay your taxes, obey the law, you can stay. There are too many already here to deport anyways. But why does the left insist on defending a repeat felon’s right to stay in the the US?

  5. Yes, the real issues is that we have LE organizations working to frustrate each other. SFPD and SFSD could hand over a lot of illegals to ICE but apparently do not. I am surprised that ICE doesn’t go to Federal Court and get these Sanctuary laws thrown out, since Federal law trumps local law. They’ve done that with medical MJ, for instance.

    Mirk’s nightmare is that nobody cares about the 999 illegals who he released and who didnt murder someone. But it only takes one case like this and he is hauled over the coals.

    But I’d agree that it is the local law that is the problem, and not Mirk’s actions. A Sanctuary law will inevitably lead to a situation like this eventually. It’s bad law.

  6. Yes, poor Jusher. I don’t understand why she stays up all night answering the trolls at SFGate. She needs to understand that they are merely egging her, and her insomnia, on, and on, and on.

  7. The vile critters on SFGate have contrived to get Jusher(2) banned… again. All she’s ever done is politely refute the lies spewed by the anti-Mirkarimi astro-turf team.

  8. What’s deceptive about that? Radical rightists and leftists see hidden agendas and conspiracies everywhere. It’s part of their paranoid cloth.

    What do you think of this recent 48 Hells headline?

    Solar power isn’t green? PG&E scam heads to the November ballot
    PG&E is scamming people’s heads? Why is that? Are they trying to see through our tinfoil hats?

  9. I was a little shocked by that headline too, Greg. Then I read it again more carefully in context. That’s called ‘reading comprehension’. There are self-help books that can help you in this area. The Chronicle assumes that its readers are literate.

  10. I think the point is off target. The law is not meant to apply to those who have already served terms of punishment for past crimes.


    No department, agency, commission, officer or employee of the City and County of San Francisco shall use any City funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law or to gather or disseminate information regarding the immigration status of individuals in the City and County of San Francisco unless such assistance is required by federal or State statute, regulation or court decision. The prohibition set forth in this Chapter shall include, but shall not be limited to:

    (a) Assisting or cooperating, in one’s official capacity, with any Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) investigation, detention, or arrest procedures, public or clandestine, relating to alleged violations of the civil provisions of the federal immigration law.

    (b) Assisting or cooperating, in one’s official capacity, with any investigation, surveillance or gathering of information conducted by foreign governments, except for cooperation related to an alleged violation of City and County, State or federal criminal laws.

    (c) Requesting information about, or disseminating information regarding, the immigration status of any individual, or conditioning the provision of services or benefits by the City and County of San Francisco upon immigration status, except as required by federal or State statute or regulation, City and County public assistance criteria, or court decision.

    (d) Including on any application, questionnaire or interview form used in relation to benefits, services or opportunities provided by the City and County of San Francisco any question regarding immigration status other than those required by federal or State statute, regulation or court decision. Any such questions existing or being used by the City and County at the time this Chapter is adopted shall be deleted within sixty days of the adoption of this Chapter.

    (Added by Ord. 375-89, App. 10/24/89)

  11. Of course I misread the meaning. But that’s my point. The wording and spacing of the headline makes it very easy to misread. Why write it that way?

  12. Bench warrants should never expire. They are issued when a suspect or criminal fails to comply with court requirements, such as violating bail, probation, parole or court-ordered appearance or programs.

    They should be timeless. We don’t reward criminals with a pass for flouting the criminal justice system. That would encourage such flouting. Zero tolerance.

  13. Sure you didn’t mis-read?

    “”Matt Gonzalez – strong defender for immigrant charged in slaying”

  14. How much better would it be if you had anything to say other than “paid wing nut trolls”. Simple minds.

  15. So the point here I guess is that this horrible outcome wasn’t the result of any particularly liberal application of the law by Mirkarimi, it’s just the outcome of the Sanctuary Law working as it supposed to, since it’s not just about keeping otherwise law-abiding and hard working immigrants safe from deportation, but also any nonfunctional, paint huffing street person with a criminal record who makes it across the border as well, as if we needed more street people. What a crap law.

  16. This is just emblematic of the depths of the yellow journalism in this town:
    Here is exactly how the headline in today’s print edition of the San Francisco Chronicle reads:

    “Matt Gonzalez
    Strong defender for immigrant
    Charged in slaying”

    I saw that and I was like, Woa! Holy Shit! I started to read the first paragraph and it was talking all about Gonzalez’s history as a defender of immigrants and “unpopular causes” and how he was going to need a lot of luck in his next case, etc etc. And then maybe in the second paragraph after the flip of the paper, it finally mentions what the actual case is, and it becomes clear that Matt Gonzalez is the *LAWYER* for the immigrant charged in the slaying!

    They say that most people only read the headlines. You gotta wonder if the Chronicle, never a fan of Gonzalez, intentionally wrote the headline in a way that can be read a smear?

  17. >”Following established protocol, the sheriff’s department was obligated to transport Lopez-Sanchez from federal prison to the county jail on March 26 so he could appear in San Francisco Superior Court.”

    Too bad that the author glossed over on the “established protocol” involved since it is a key part of this case. Anything could be an “established protocol”. I have an established protocol saying that my kids have to eat vegetables if they want dessert.

    Does anyone have any information on the “established protocol” that forced Sheriff Mirkarimi’s hand?

  18. This part about “violent felonies” is factually incorrect:

    >”The ordinance however doesn’t apply to individuals who have previously been convicted of a violent felony within a certain period of time… none of Lopez-Sanchez’s felonies were violent, a fact that seemed irrelevant to the pool of reporters at the conference.”

    The reporters were right. Perhaps they actually read the ordinance.

    The truth is that the Sanctuary Ordinance doesn’t distinguish between violent and other felonies. In fact, the word “violent” is not used anywhere in the ordinance. The possibility that none of Lopez-Sanchez’s felonies were considered violent is irrelevant. Here is what the Ordinance really says:

    Nothing in this Chapter shall prohibit, or be construed as prohibiting, a law enforcement officer from identifying and reporting any person pursuant to State or federal law or regulation who is in custody after being booked for the alleged commission of a felony and is suspected of violating the civil provisions of the immigration laws. In addition, nothing in this Chapter shall preclude any City and County department, agency, commission, officer or employee from (a) reporting information to the INS regarding an individual who has been booked at any county jail facility, and who has previously been convicted of a felony committed in violation of the laws of the State of California, which is still considered a felony under State law; (b) cooperating with an INS request for information regarding an individual who has been convicted of a felony committed in violation of the laws of the State of California, which is still considered a felony under state law; or (c) reporting information as required by federal or state statute, regulation or court decision, regarding an individual who has been convicted of a felony committed in violation of the laws of the State of California, which is still considered a felony under state law. For purposes of this Section, an individual has been “convicted” of a felony when: (a) there has been a conviction by a court of competent jurisdiction; and (b) all direct appeal rights have been exhausted or waived; or (c) the appeal period has lapsed.


  19. 48 Hills is the only real “news” outlet left in SF, Sad to see even this town fall into the Faux News shithole. BTW, how much better would this site be if you started throwiing out all the paid wingnut trolls? Answer: a LOT!

  20. How is the City of SF passing the sanctuary ordinance, in clear violation of Federal Law any different than say a different locationocality deciding which other Federal Laws it wants to ignore, say voting rights or marriage discrimination??

  21. Mirkarimi should just never give a press conference ever. Look how his last big one went..
    I don’t like the guy, and there’s not a chance that hes going to make any of this better. Simple answer, detain undocumenteds that have a felony record. God forbid SF ever made anything simple.
    This poor woman’s death is on SF’s hands, all because we need to be the leftest of the left 24/7/365 – common sense be damned.

Comments are closed.

More by this author

Breed won’t promise to spend real-estate tax money on rent relief

The voters approved Prop. I last fall to support tenants and affordable housing, but the mayor says she will use the money for her own priorities.

Reese Erlich, foreign correspondent and radical reporter, is dead at 73

After a life of progressive politics, ground-breaking journalism, and social activism, a legendary writer loses battle with cancer.

There’s a lot more to the GG Park debate than cars v. bikes

This is part of a huge discussion the city needs to have about transportation -- and equity -- in a post-COVID world.

SF could have affordable Internet for everyone for $35 a resident

Why isn't the Breed Administration moving for municipal broadband? That's The Agenda for April 11-18

A new move to get corporate money out of state political campaigns

AB 20 would ban contributions from corporations to any candidate for state office in CA.

Most read

How To Reopen Nightlife: Enough with the boys’ club, make room for women

DJ femmelectric and promoter Alex McGeagh speak about equity, access, and safety for women and nonbinary folks.

Radical right group is trying to attack public-sector labor in SF

Anti-union mailers are going to workers home addresses -- but really, this group is looking pretty desperate.

Family child care: A real business that makes a big impact on a community

Teaching Behind the Mask: Why FCCs need more resources -- and respect.

Screen Grabs: Wine, mystery, folk music, black comedy at Greek Film Fest

Plus: Psilocybic British horror 'In the Earth,' Scandinavian cancer drama 'Hope,' Tiny Dance Fest, more new movies

You might also likeRELATED