SAN FRANCISCO — A lawyer for San Francisco's sheriff's office says it had no authority to honor an immigration detainer on a suspect in the shooting death of a woman at a popular tourist destination.
Francisco Sanchez has seven felony convictions and has been deported five times, most recently in 2009, a federal agency said Friday. He was arrested about an hour after Wednesday's seemingly random slaying of Kathryn Steinle at Pier 14 — one of the busiest attractions in the city.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had turned Sanchez over to San Francisco police March 26 on an outstanding drug warrant, said agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice.
Kice said ICE issued a detainer for Sanchez in March. She said the detainer was not honored.
Freya Horne, counsel for the sheriff's office, said Friday that federal detention orders are not a "legal basis" to hold someone, so Sanchez was released April 15. San Francisco is a sanctuary city and local money cannot be spent to cooperate with federal immigration law.
The city does not turn over people who are in the country illegally unless there's an active warrant for their arrest, she said. Horne said they checked and found none. ICE could have issued an active warrant if they wanted the city to keep him, she said.
"It's not legal to hold someone on a request to detain. This is not just us. This is a widely adopted position," she said.
Steinle was gunned down while out for an evening stroll with her father along the waterfront. Police said witnesses heard no argument or dispute before the shooting, suggesting it was a random attack.
Liz Sullivan told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1IuWbKw) the killing of her daughter was unbelievable and surreal.
"I don't think I've totally grasped it," Sullivan said.
Police Sgt. Michael Andraychak said witnesses snapped photos of Sanchez immediately after the shooting, and the images helped police make the arrest while he was walking on a sidewalk a few blocks away.
Police were still waiting for fingerprint identification on Sanchez, who is believed to be a 45-year-old whose last address was in Texas. Authorities said he does not yet have a lawyer who could be reached for comment.
Sullivan told the Chronicle that her 32-year-old daughter turned to her father after she was shot and said she didn't feel well before collapsing.
"She just kept saying, 'Dad, help me, help me,'" Sullivan said.
Her father immediately began CPR before paramedics rushed the woman to the hospital.
"She fought for her life," Sullivan said.
Steinle went to high school and previously lived about 40 miles east of San Francisco, the newspaper said. She recently moved just blocks from the waterfront and worked for a medical technology company.