Trump Calls Acquittal in Sanctuary City Murder ‘Disgraceful’

Updated on
  • San Francisco jury finds undocumented immigrant not guilty
  • President uses case to renew call for building a border wall
Jose Garcia Zarate in 2015. Photographer: Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via AP Photo

President Donald Trump blasted a California jury that acquitted a Mexican immigrant who was in the U.S. illegally in the shooting death of a woman in San Francisco two years ago and renewed his call for building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump seized on the fact that local officials let the man go while he was awaiting deportation in a series of tweets Thursday night and Friday morning.

“The Kate Steinle killer came back and back over the weakly protected Obama border, always committing crimes and being violent, and yet this info was not used in court,” Trump wrote Friday. “His exoneration is a complete travesty of justice. BUILD THE WALL!”

The San Francisco jury Thursday found 45-year-old Jose Garcia Zarate not guilty of murder and manslaughter in the July 2015 killing of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle as she walked down a pier with her father. Zarate had been in a San Francisco jail on charges of selling marijuana but was released three months before the incident and allowed to remain free under sanctuary city laws.

Trump has said that Steinle’s death, just two weeks after he launched his presidential campaign, is emblematic of the problems in the U.S. immigration system, particularly the continued existence of sanctuary cities where local officials refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials. He has repeatedly warned about violent Latino gangs flourishing in sanctuary cities, and used the crime as part of his efforts to justify a crackdown on undocumented immigrants and win support for a wall he wants built along the U.S. border with Mexico.

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"Countless innocent American lives have been stolen because our politicians have failed in their duty to secure our borders and enforce our laws like they have to be enforced," Trump said during a August 2016 campaign speech in Phoenix, Arizona. "I have met with many of the great parents who lost their children to sanctuary cities and open borders. So many people, so many, many people. So sad."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has threatened to cut off Justice Department funding to sanctuary cities, on Thursday condemned the jury’s decision.

“San Francisco’s decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle,” he said in a statement. “The Department of Justice will continue to ensure that all jurisdictions place the safety and security of their communities above the convenience of criminal aliens. I urge the leaders of the nation’s communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers.”

In September, a federal judge in Chicago ruled the U.S. Justice Department can’t withhold millions of dollars in grants supporting public safety from cities that refuse to share with federal officials the immigration status of suspects in custody.

“The jury was not told the killer of Kate was a 7 time felon,” Trump tweeted on Friday, saying that congressional Democrats “are so weak on Crime that they will pay a big price in the 2018 and 2020 Elections.”

Zarate, whose defense was that the gun fired accidentally, was found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Thomas Homan said his agency will now seek to take custody of Zarate and deport him.

"San Francisco’s policy of refusing to honor ICE detainers is a blatant threat to public safety and undermines the rule of law,” Homan said in a statement after the verdict Thursday. “This tragedy could have been prevented if San Francisco had simply turned the alien over to ICE, as we requested, instead of releasing him back onto the streets.”

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