SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – The parents of a woman killed with a stolen federal gun on a San Francisco pier in 2015 have lost a bid to hold the U.S. government liable for her death.
U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero on Monday dismissed the claim by James Steinle and Elizabeth Sullivan that the government should be held responsible for the negligence of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger whose unsecured and loaded gun was stolen from his parked SUV.
Kate Steinle, 32, was killed while walking on Pier 14 in San Francisco on July 1, 2015, by a ricocheting bullet from the stolen gun, which was held by Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen who was released from San Francisco county jail a few weeks earlier.
The gun was stolen three and one-half days earlier from the SUV of ranger John Woychowski, who left the weapon in a backpack in the vehicle in a parking lot about half a mile away from Pier 14.
Spero said in a 14-page ruling that the theft of the gun was too far removed from the shooting in time, distance and other circumstances for the government to be held liable for causing the shooting.
“In this case, the gun traveled at least some distance from the theft, three and a half days elapsed, the gun changed hands once at the very least, and there is no way to know what else transpired during that time,” Spero wrote.
The decision could be appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The parents’ lawyers were not immediately available for comment.
In 2017, Spero dismissed another claim by the parents in the same lawsuit, in which they alleged the city of San Francisco and former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi were negligent in failing to honor a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement request for notification of Zarate’s release from the county jail. The 9th Circuit last year upheld the dismissal of that claim.
Zarate, who has a history of drug convictions and five deportations, has contended he found the gun wrapped in rags under a swivel chair he was sitting on at the pier and that it fired accidentally when he picked it up.
He was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges by a San Francisco Superior Court jury in 2017.
Zarate now faces a federal trial beginning on Jan. 15 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on two criminal charges of being an ex-felon and an undocumented immigrant in possession of a gun.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria will preside over the jury trial.
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