Cops in Zarate case never considered that they might be wrong

Testimony shows a failure to pursue any evidence that clashed with the investigators' initial version of events

The prosecution in the Jose Ines Garcia Zarate trial rested its case today after a routine presentation by the chief medical examiner.

But before that, we learned even more about the strange interrogation of Zarate, leaving even more in doubt what the jury is likely to make of this critical evidence.

Matt Gonzalez questions inspector Anthony Ravano about his interrogation of Zarate. Illustration by Vicki Behringer

Matt Gonzalez, attorney for Zarate, cross-examined Inspector Anthony Ravano, who lead the investigation into the death of Kate Steinle, and shed some light not only the cops’ techniques but on some key evidence that they didn’t bother to look for.

Ravano’s testimony made clear that he and his colleagues never considered any evidence that might corroborate Zarate’s claim that the gun fired by accident.

In fact, Gonzalez pointed out, they never pursued any sort of investigation into any theory of the incident except the one that they had decided on early: That the homeless undocumented immigrant had intentionally aimed the gun in Steinle’s direction and fired.

At one point, Ravano argued that Zarate couldn’t have found the gun on Pier 14, because if it had been there, somebody else on the busy dock would have noticed it and called the police.

When asked where Zarate might have found it, Ravano said “anywhere else” on the waterfront.

But the entire waterfront along the Embarcadero is also busy, and if the weapon was left “anywhere else,” by Ravano’s logic, someone should have called the police to report it there.

It also became clear during questioning that the police treated Zarate very differently than they treated the federal agent who left the gun loaded and ready to fire in his car. Ravano even testified that he was unable to ask the agent more than very limited questions about the gun because of restrictions imposed by Justice Dept. lawyers.

After the testimony, reporters asked Alex Bastian, a spokesperson for District Attorney George Gascon, whether the city participated in limiting the questioning of the agent. He repeatedly declined to answer.

“The police used kid gloves to accommodate that fellow officer,” Gonzalez told us after the testimony. But they put Zarate in a patrol car for four hours then interrogated him until 6am, despite the fact that he was clearly sleep-deprived and unable to offer coherent answers to their questions.

Gonzalez asked Ravano about a long list of statements Zarate made that were clearly not accurate. He said he was five or six feet from Steinle when the gun discharged; he was 90 feet away. He said he walked past the wounded woman and offered no aide; he was never near her and neve walked past her. He said that he was shooting at a seal, which was impossible since the pier is way too high and seals couldn’t reach it. When the officers asked Zarate to repeat back what they had said, he was unable to do it.

At times, he agreed to the officers’ version of events, only to make contradictory statements later.

And it appears that the officers never looked into some of those contradictions. They never asked, for example, where the seal was, or how Zarate could have fired at the seal from a seated position.

During the interrogation, the copes asked him what the gun was pointed at. After nine seconds of silence, he said “I don’t know.”

The tape of the interview shows the officers banging on the table and telling the clearly exhausted Zarate that they are “sick of him.”

But under repeated questioning, Ravano defended the interrogation, saying that he started off assuming Zarate was lying, that it was necessary to lie to the suspect to “motivate” him to talk, and that it didn’t matter that he was sleep deprived. “I was sleep-deprived too,” Ravano said.

The interrogators asked Zarate why he had killed the young woman. Zarate responded: “I don’t remember.”

I saw that as a pretty dramatic indication that Zarate was confused, disoriented, or had some sort of cognitive issues; he didn’t deny killing her (although when he was brought in for questioning he didn’t know she was dead). He didn’t say that he had not motive, or cite a motive. He said he didn’t remember.

When Zarate said he found the gun wrapped in rags or a shirt, the officers never asked him to elaborate: What color was the shirt? How heavy was the weapon?

That, it became clear, was because Ravano didn’t believe Zarate could have found the gun on the pier — even though under direct and intense questioning, he repeatedly said that was what happened.

“You say that didn’t find the gun because someone else would have found it,” Gonzalez asked. “Why couldn’t he have been the one that found it?”

Ravano said: “He could have.”

But that possibility was never part of the investigation.

The grainy video that was introduced earlier, from a fireboat 800 yards away, shows that shortly before this incident, a group of perhaps six people congregated briefly around the chair where Zarate sat. But that wasn’t a part of the investigation, Ravano said.

“I don’t know if I saw it or not,” he testified. When asked if he had made any notes in his investigative report that there were six people in that area shortly before the gun was fired, he said: “I did not.”

Ravano, prompted by prosecutor Diana Garcia, introduced what Gonzales later said was a new theory in the case: That Zarate had found the gun elsewhere, and hidden it in the pocket of the coat he was wearing. Garcia had Ravano show the jury the coat that was collected as evidence when Zarate was arrested, and the gun in question, and show how the gun could fit into one of the pockets.

However, he said he had never done a test to see if there was gunshot residue in the jacket.

“There are a lot of pockets this gun could fit in,” Gonzalez said outside the courtroom. “This is a new theory. If they really believed it, they would have tested the coat for gunshot residue.”

The defense will start its case Monday, and it’s possible that this could go to the jury the next week.