SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Police in San Jose on Wednesday identified the suspect arrested by San Jose police in the fatal weekend stabbing at Grace Baptist Church as a man with a long, violent criminal history who had been deported three times.
San Jose authorities including the mayor also cited several systemic failures that led to the suspect being on the streets, despite repeated offenses and arrests.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia identified the suspect as Fernando De Jesus Lopez-Garcia. According to authorities, he faces two counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, battery on a spouse or cohabitant and violation of a protective order.
Garcia also described the bloody scene responding officers found and the quick apprehension of Lopez-Garcia.
According to Garcia, officers responded to multiple reports of a stabbing at Grace Baptist Church on the 400 block of East San Fernando Street shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday night. At least one caller told dispatchers there was “blood everywhere.”
When they arrived, officers located five victims inside the church suffering from at least one stab wound each. One adult male victim was declared dead at the scene. A second adult victim, a female, was transported to a local hospital where she succumbed to her injuries.
Garcia said that the suspect and four of the stabbing victims were members of San Jose’s homeless community, but noted that the fifth victim was a volunteer who was working at Grace Baptist Church.
Garcia said that the suspect had fled the scene by the time police arrived, but an observant officer found a male subject who matched the description of the attacker and detained him within 12 minutes of police receiving the first 911 call about the incident.
De Jesus Lopez-Garcia was homeless and regularly used the services at Grace Baptist Church, but also volunteered at the church to help provide services to those in the unhoused community, the police chief said.
Garcia noted that the suspect had an extensive and violent criminal history and said that, despite multiple arrests and convictions for violent crimes, De Jesus Lopez-Garcia had not been turned over to immigration officials because of county and state sanctuary policies.
The suspect’s criminal history includes a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon for which he served a two-year prison sentence, felony domestic violence, and a misdemeanor domestic violence arrest earlier this year that resulted in a warrant.
Garcia said that the suspect had been deported from the U.S. on three prior occasions, but had returned to California.
“On his latest misdemeanor domestic violence offense in Santa Clara County, an immigration detainer was sent. Although notification would have been allowed under SB54, the California Values Act, it was not honored and he was subsequently released,” Garcia explained.
Garcia also said that De Jesus Lopez-Garcia was released on his own recognizance by a judge, despite protests from the Santa Clara County DA over concerns with the suspect’s violent history.
The suspect was additionally on probation out of San Joaquin County for domestic violence and had an active warrant in Santa Clara County for failing to comply with the conditions of release at the time of the stabbing for failure to appear in court.
Both Garcia and Mayor Sam Liccardo said that it appeared that the suspect was under the influence of drugs during the attack and that he had a history of drug problems.
Mayor Liccardo also mentioned that the ICE detainer on the suspect was ignored, per Santa Clara County’s sanctuary policy.
“In this case, I’m told the county received an ICE detainer arrest, but did not notify ICE of the defendant’s release,” said Liccardo. “He should have been in jail, in federal custody, in drug treatment, or in jail in his own country. But not on the streets in our community.”
Both Garcia and Liccardo touched on areas that need improvement as far as keeping San Jose safe.
“If we don’t fix the problems that we have in our criminal justice system where we can’t seemingly find a way to hold violent criminals accountable, then nothing works,” said Garcia
The mayor said the church attack could have been prevented. He cited multiple system failures, including San Jose’s problem with homelessness and and the need for more balanced police reform.
“Changes in our criminal justice system have not made our community safer,” said Liccardo. “”This pendulum has swung too far.”
Police said there is no evidence the stabbing was motivated by any sort of bias, racial or otherwise, and Garcia emphasized that the suspect does not represent the homeless or immigrant communities as a whole.
U.S. ICE officials also issued a statement on Wednesday, identifying the suspect as “a repeat immigration offender with a significant criminal history spanning back nearly 15 years” and calling De Jesus Lopez-Garcia a “criminal alien.”
Garcia has previously been convicted for spousal battery, assault with a deadly weapon, inflicting corporal injury on a spouse, battery on an officer, and vandalism. ICE said that officers from the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) lodged an immigration detainer with the jail the day after the deadly attack.
San Francisco ICE ERO field office director David Jennings offered his condolences the victims and their families in the stabbing in a press release that also criticized the state’s sanctuary policies.
“Here we have catastrophic proof of the abject failure of California’s sanctuary policies. The only person this policy protected was a criminal; permitting him to reoffend over and over again,” said Jennings. “Had those immigration detainers been honored, or had ICE been notified on any of the other multiple occasions he was arrested and released from local jails, we would have taken him into custody. Regrettably, politics continues to prevail over public safety, the detainers were ignored, and De Jesus Lopez-Garcia was released to the street.”
Police are asking anyone with information to contact Detective Sergeant Lewis #3161 or Detective Meeker #3272 of the San Jose Police Department’s Homicide unit at (408) 277-5283.
People can also leave anonymous tips by calling the Crime Stoppers hotline at (408) 947-7867.