Appeals court revives suit over killing involving stolen SFPD gun

Abel Esquivel, 23, was shot and killed in San Francisco back in 2017. The gun used was a personal weapon stolen from an SFPD officer's own SUV.

On Tuesday, a state appeals court revived a lawsuit filed by Esquivel's mother, Mayra Perez. It said a lower court wrongly concluded that the officer's carelessness wasn't work-related.

"This lawsuit is not an attack on the gun industry. It's not an attack on responsible gun owners," said Donald Magilligan, an attorney representing Perez.

"We're very pleased that the Perez family will have the opportunity to let a San Francisco jury decide whether the county should be responsible for irresponsible gun storage of its employees," Magilligan said.

The family sued San Francisco, accusing Officer Marvin Cabuntala of improperly storing his personal .38-caliber revolver in his Acura MDX and leaving it unattended.

That gun was stolen, and several young men went on a crime spree during which Esquivel was shot and killed with the officer's gun near 26th and South Van Ness.

The alleged shooter was facing deportation. 

Cabuntala left his gun inside his SUV after a training session. He says he didn't realize that the weapon had been stolen for several days, because there were no visible signs of the burglary.

The appeals court said the officer's actions could be considered within the scope of his employment.

In a statement, Jen Kwart, spokeswoman for City Attorney David Chiu said, "We disagree with the ruling and are considering all of our options in response."

The case has some similarities to the killing of Kate Steinle,  who was shot and killed with a gun stolen from the car of a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger.

But in Steinle's case, a federal appeals court threw out her family's lawsuit. Jose Garcia Zarate, the man accused of killing Steinle with a gun he said he had found, was acquitted of murder.

The same law firm also represented Steinle's family.

"Different judges can come out differently on the same issue," Magilligan said.

The city could ask the appeals court to revisit the case or ask the state Supreme Court to review it. Cabuntala remains employed by San Francisco police.