Killer released from jail despite facing deportation

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Just four days after 18-year-old Erick Garcia-Pineda stole a gun from the personal car of a San Francisco police officer, he committed a robbery, fatally shooting a popular community volunteer in the process, authorities said Friday.

San Francisco police say Garcia-Pineda and two other young men began driving around the city, looking for robbery victims after they stole the police gun on Aug. 11.

Released from police custody in April, federal immigration agents had already begun tracking the Mexican teenager with a monitoring device around his ankle, but he removed it four days after killing 23-year-old Abel Enrique Esquivel Jr. on Aug. 15, triggering an unsuccessful search.

ICE spokesman James Schwab said the agency had asked San Francisco police to hold him for up to 48 hours after his release.

Garcia-Pineda is one of three alleged killers, in addition to Daniel Cruz, 18, and Jesus Perez-Araujo, 24. All three are now being held in jail without bail, facing a list of charges, including murder.

The case is reminiscent of the 2015 killing of a young woman on a San Francisco pier by a Mexican national, who had been deported five times. A stolen police gun was also used in that shooting, which set off a national debate on sanctuary city policies that stop local police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities, unless they are seeking suspects convicted or charged with violent crimes. That case will begin jury selection in early October.

Authorities say Garcia-Pineda had been detained by immigration authorities in December and released from custody in April, pending deportation. In addition to wearing the ankle monitor, the judge required him to routinely check in with immigration officials.

He failed to show up for his August appointment, said Schwab, noting that a contractor received a tamper alert from his ankle monitor on Aug. 19, but authorities were unable to locate him. ICE then contacted the illegal alien’s attorney.

The sheriff’s department says Garcia-Pineda was wearing the ankle bracelet when he was arrested on Sept. 3 on misdemeanor battery charges, and deputies removed it. ICE says the Sheriff’s Department ignored a request to block his release from jail that day.

Investigators later connected Garcia-Pineda to the killing of 23-year-old Abel Esquivel, during a robbery.

ICE agents also asked the local sheriff in May to detain alleged killer Perez-Araujo. San Francisco police arrested him for possession of marijuana and illegal possession of brass knuckles. He was ultimately only charged with misdemeanor possession of brass knuckles, court records showed.

Ironically, Esquivel was a much-loved volunteer at the Central American Resource Center, which provides legal help to low-income Latino clients and other social services.

“We were shocked to hear the weapon belonged to a police officer,” said Lariza Dugan Cuadra, executive director of the center.

Martin Halloran, president of the Police Officers’ Union, said the officer did not know his vehicle had been broken into until after the shooting. “There were no visible signs of the burglary,” he said. “The officer, a highly decorated veteran, is devastated.”

Meanwhile, the debate over sanctuary cities continues.

The Trump administration opposes the policy and has threatened to withhold federal funds to those cities, prompting lawsuits. A federal judge on Friday barred the administration from withholding funding, until a lawsuit in Chicago is resolved.

California’s “sanctuary state” bill, which would limit police cooperation with federal immigration authorities, was approved by the state Assembly on Friday.

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