Judge Lets Victims’ Kin Sue San Francisco Over Sanctuary

Judge lets victims' kin sue S.F. over sanctuary

By Bob Egelko
The San Francisco Chronicle, September 15, 2009

San Francisco — The family of a father and two sons who were slain in San Francisco last year can go to state court with a claim that the city is to blame for failing to turn their alleged killer over to immigration authorities when he was arrested earlier as a juvenile, a federal judge has ruled.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera had asked U.S. District Judge Susan Illston to rule on the claim herself after dismissing the rest of the suit last month by Tony Bologna's widow and daughter. But Illston said Friday that the remainder of the family's case – that the city's negligence caused the killings – belongs in Superior Court because it is based on state law and challenges San Francisco's policies.

Bologna, 48, and his sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16, were shot to death near their home in the Excelsior district in June 2008. Edwin Ramos, 22, is charged with murdering them.

Ramos, a native of El Salvador whom prosecutors describe as a member of the MS-13 gang, was arrested twice as a juvenile, for an assault in October 2003 and an attempted purse-snatching in April 2004. Juvenile courts sent him to a shelter after the first incident and to the city-run Log Cabin Ranch in the Peninsula hills after the second.

Case records don't show whether police or juvenile courts knew that Ramos had entered the United States illegally. But under juvenile authorities' interpretation of the city's sanctuary policy at the time, they would not have passed that information along to federal immigration officials. Federal authorities learned of Ramos' status later but did not take him into custody for deportation proceedings.

The family's lawsuit says the city was responsible for the shootings because its policy allowed Ramos to go free.

Last month, Illston rejected the family's claim that the city's actions violated the shooting victims' constitutional right to due process of law. She said the city might be held to account if it knew Ramos posed a specific threat to the Bolognas, but not for releasing someone who allegedly endangered a large segment of the public.

Herrera's office urged Illston to address the negligence claim as well, arguing that it was governed by the same legal standard: a requirement that the plaintiffs show city officials knew the Bolognas were in danger and had a duty to protect them.

But Matthew Davis, the family's lawyer, said Monday that California law makes it easier to hold government officials accountable for allegedly harboring illegal immigrants or preventing police from reporting them to federal authorities.


Victims' kin can take San Francisco to court
The Associated Press, September 14, 2009