San Francisco County Sheriff denies blame in immigrant release

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – It's a story of "what ifs." What is Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez had been turned over to federal immigration agents after his arrest warrant on marijuana charges was dismissed.

What if Lopez Sanchez had been held for deportation instead of being able to pick up a gun, a gun used to kill 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle.

The illegal immigrant, who had been deported numerous times, is accused of killing Steinle on July 1 as she walked along the San Francisco Bayfront with her father.

Critics have asked why the sheriff's department did not hand Lopez-Sanchez over to immigration authorities after his release.

But the sheriff said he followed the laws. He's pointing the blame at federal immigration authorities and the agency known as ICE for failing to give him the proper legal documents to keep Lopez-Sanchez in custody.

"As I contend and I will continue to do so, ICE failed to obtain and provide a warrant or judicial order for such deportation proceedings. Why would they have completely ignored the 20-year-old bench warrants for marijuana possession and sales previously, and then had deported him, and then this time, they decide that this warrant required a detour from their normal procedure," said San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarmi. 

The sheriff notes the marijuana bench warrant was first issued in 1995, so the federal government had many years and many opportunities before this to deport the man now accused of murder.

In quick response, federal officials said the San Francisco sheriff shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the law, by insisting that he needed a warrant for deportation.

Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said there is no such document, nor is there any federal court with the authority to issue one.

A lot of finger pointing here with no one willing to acknowledge that someone made a terrible mistake. 

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