Zarate looked confused, disoriented during police interrogation

Cops lied to homeless defendant -- but in the end, he insisted that he stumbled onto the gun by accident and it fired

It was confusing, often contradictory, as the jurors today heard the interrogation of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented homeless man accused of killing Kate Steinle.

Only a portion of the late-night, four-hour interrogation was played by prosecutor Diana Garcia as part of the prosecution’s case that Zarate intentionally shot Steinle. The video shows Garcia Zarate huddled in a corner in a cold police interrogation room sometime after 1am on July 5th, hours after the shooting on Pier 14. 

Zarate huddled in an interrogation room as the cops questioned him late into the night. Illustration by Vicki Behringer

Officer Martin Covarrubias translated the interrogation from Spanish for homicide investigators Anthony Ravano and Chris Canning, both sergeants with the San Francisco Police Department at the time of the interrogation.

Zarate appeared confused, stating that he was born in 1863 and that he was from Colombia. Actually, he’s from Mexico.

Zarate at first denied being at the pier and repeatedly told the officers that he was sitting on The Embarcadero and eating crackers on a planter, but later admitted to sitting at the pier, finding the gun wrapped in a piece of cloth, shooting it and throwing the gun in the Bay. 

At multiple points during the interrogation, Zarate told investigators that he found the gun wrapped in a piece of cloth — providing information that backs the defense’s claim that the shooting was accidental instead of intentional. 

“When I got there, I was walking along and I stepped on it (…) it was wrapped in a cloth so I picked it up (…) it was heavy so I grabbed it and it fired,” Zarate said. When Ravano asked why he threw the gun in the Bay after it fired, Zarate said, according to the translation provided by Covarrubias, “because the gun was shooting by itself.” 

Later he contradicted himself again by saying the gun got “caught in something” and was too heavy to carry so he “dropped it.” He also repeatedly said Steinle was between five and six feet away, when it’s been established that she was at least 90 feet from where he was sitting. 

Ravano also testified Wednesday that police investigators had lied to Zarate before his confession as part of their tactic to elicit a confession.

“It was just another tactic to help motivate him or elicit a more truthful response,” Ravano said. 

Investigators told Zarate that the police had witnesses, had recovered the gun from the water, and matched his DNA to the weapon. In fact, there were no witnesses to the shooting and the gun hadn’t been recovered at the time of the interrogation. 

In another instance during the interrogation Zarate gave conflicting statements about the shooting.

“Did you mean to do it?” Canning asked trying to ascertain whether Garcia Zarate intended to shoot Steinle.

“No,” Zarate responded.

“Was it an accident?”

“Yes.”

“But you did make the decision to pull the trigger, correct?”

“Yes.”

“What did you think was going to happen after you pulled the trigger?”

“That I wasn’t going to be able to hold it, it was too big for me and too heavy.” 

During part of the interrogation, Zarate responded in the affirmative when officers asked him if he found the gun elsewhere or intended to shoot. But when asked “where he found the gun” he goes back to his original statement “right there,” signaling to his statement earlier that he found the gun at the pier. 

The cross examination will continue tomorrow.  After court, Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez told he was happy with the way the case was proceeding. Gonzalez told reporters that he believed that the  police pushed and led Zarate into his answers during the interrogation that lasted until 6am. 

“The fact that very skilled and experienced and educated interrogators can get a second-grade-educated Mexican immigrant to adopt what they are saying, like that Kate Steinle was five-feet away when the gun discharged, that doesn’t make it true,” Gonzalez said. 

“Tomorrow I want to focus on and play parts of the interrogation, especially one in the beginning where he [Garcia Zarate] genuinely struggles with telling the officers his birth date reveling his mental, physical fatigue and mental state at that time.” 

19 COMMENTS

  1. Fair take. I don’t think the trial is going to have the implications the crime itself had, but agreed either way the verdict goes, it’s not going to be good for Latino immigrants.

  2. > I’m just curious where people’s bias comes from.

    I haven’t followed the details of the case too closely until now. My take, to start with, is the complete lack of motive for the killing. The defense scenario doesn’t come off as very solid so far, but the prosecution is even less convincing, and they have the burden of proof.
    As far as the nationalists and haters go, it’s bad news no matter what the decision is. Either way they’ll make it a cause to crack down on immigrants.

  3. I’m pretty sure that the jury could return a manslaughter conviction if they felt that Zarate was responsible for the death but they did not detect any malice/intent. Similar to most drunk driving convictions.

  4. I’m just curious where people’s bias comes from.

    Well, I think that the defense case insults our intelligence. That the gun just happened to be left in plain view in a tourist spot, that it went off by itself, and that it just happened to be pointed at people. I guess he was ‘lucky’ that he didn’t shoot himself in the stomach. Or that he didn’t crack a rib from the recoil.

    And the prosecution case is aggressive but I think they are just going hard for murder 2 in order to get no worse than manslaughter.

  5. Yes, the police coerced him into saying a lot of things by lying to him. And each time, he went back to his one consistent story. You, on the other hand, are the one accepting what supports your preconceived notion. And since you probably have no idea, I paraphrased what Christ said. He spoke of people who strain out gnats, but swallow camels. It was a joke he made. The image is of a man eating a bowl of soup, and pulling out a gnat (something insignificant) but swallowing an entire camel as though he had not noticed it in the bowl.

  6. Well he said that he stepped on the gun. Sorry.

    I don’t have your ability to selectively believe the different things that Zarate said. It must be great to just be able to fully accept the things that support your preconceived notion and to dismiss those that don’t as a ‘gnat’. But not everyone has your talent to do so.

  7. You want to gag on the gnat of how he might have stepped on the gun, which was something he said after the police lied to him, and swallow the camel of still trying to imply that he stole the gun. You are assuming it was in the middle under the seat. We do have evidence that he bent over, which would be required if he took it from under the seat. But, oh wait, you have to ignore that inconvenient truth.

  8. Many here are desperate to see a conviction because they believe it will help Trump, and hurt Democrats. I have looked at both sides, and to be honest, I am again surprised at how incompetent the DA’s office is. So far, the prosecution has barely made a prima facie case (i.e. a case that shows that the defendant is guilty in the absence of defense evidence). It is a bumbling mishmash of garbage that the defense can easily knock-down. And I doubt they have anything better that they are waiting to expose. The prosecution has to show the defense what they have during discovery. They are not allowed to pull out surprise witnesses.

  9. Maybe, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m just curious where people’s bias comes from.

    Most everyone commenting here focus on scrutinizing either the prosecution or the defense, but not both. H. Brown thinks Gonzalez is the golden boy, but chances are slim he’ll give Garcia any nods. Playland blasts away at the defense’s case, but never challenges the prosecution’s theory. The list goes on.

  10. This person has been caught in lies numerous times. And the earlier comment would have been posted awfully early for someone in San Francisco.

  11. Oh yes, this person has an agenda. A complete nut case. I wrote a rather long post exposing comments from other Disqus sites. Her profile is now “private.” This person has a lot to hide.

  12. “When I got there, I was walking along and I stepped on it (…) it was wrapped in a cloth so I picked it up (…) it was heavy so I grabbed it and it fired,” Zarate said.

    How did he step on it if it was under one of the metal seats?

    KQED reported Zarate as saying that he had spent much of the day going through dumpsters and other trash bins; in the direct proximity of the original theft. I think I know where he found the gun; the original thieves didn’t leave it in plain sight on Pier 14.

  13. As if you don’t have an agenda. You’re writing from central time .. what’s your connection to the case?

  14. He was interrogated in exactly the same way used for any and every suspect. He is a liar, that’s for sure.