Federal officials file new immigration, gun charges against man acquitted of Steinle's murder

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN)-- Federal prosecutors today said new immigration and weapons charges 
have been filed against Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant who was acquitted last week on murder charges in the fatal shooting of resident Kate Steinle.

Garcia Zarate was indicted by a federal grand jury today on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition and being an illegally present alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Jurors in San Francisco Superior Court on Thursday found Garcia Zarate, 45, not guilty of murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the July 1, 2015 shooting of Steinle, a 32-year-old Pleasanton native who was killed as she walked on Pier 14 with her father. The acquittal came after defense 
attorneys successfully argued in the trial that the shooting was accidental.

He was convicted of one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The verdict created a furor nationally, particularly among those on the right pursuing an anti-immigration agenda, and prompted a #boycottSF campaign online, as well as several angry tweets from President Donald Trump.

Steinle's shooting touched off a national political debate about Sanctuary City policies, which limit cooperation between local law enforcement and immigration authorities.

Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen who has previous convictions for nonviolent drug charges and returning to the country after deportation, had been released from San Francisco jail a few months before the shooting without notification to federal authorities. His release came after prosecutors chose to drop marijuana charges against him.

Sanctuary City policies, which have been in place in San Francisco in some form since the 1980s and are used by several hundred other cities and counties nationwide, are intended to promote public safety by encouraging immigrants to report crimes and cooperate with police.

However critics have argued they encourage crime, and the current administration has made several attempts to punish Sanctuary City jurisdictions by withholding federal grant funds. Those efforts have so far been blocked by the courts.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement on Thursday following the verdict saying that "San Francisco's decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle."

"When jurisdictions choose to return criminal aliens to the streets rather than turning them over to federal immigration authorities, they put the public's safety at risk," Sessions said.

Federal officials already have a criminal warrant signed by a judge in 2015 for Garcia Zarate, and he will be released to the U.S. Marshal once he is eligible to be released following the conclusion of his state case, according to the San Francisco Sheriff's Department.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 14 on the firearms possession conviction, and Garcia Zarate is expected to be sentenced to either 16 months in prison, two years or three years, depending on the ruling of Judge James Feng. However he has been in jail since the shooting on July 1, 2015 and will get credit for time served.

The public defender's office has said it plans to appeal the conviction on the firearms possession charge.

If Garcia Zarate is convicted on the new federal charges, he faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

You can read the indictment here