Family blames sanctuary policy in 3 slayings
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, August 23, 2008
(08-22) 18:14 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco's immigrant sanctuary policies played a "substantial" role in the slayings of a father and two of his sons by allowing city officials to shield the alleged killer from deportation, despite his violent history, according to a legal claim filed Friday on behalf of the victims' family.
The claim is likely to be followed by a wrongful death lawsuit in which the family of Tony Bologna and his sons could seek millions of dollars from the city.
Bologna, 48, and his sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16, were shot to death on a street in the Excelsior district June 22. Edwin Ramos, 21, of El Sobrante, who authorities say is a member of a street gang, has been charged with three counts of murder.
Tony Bologna's wife, Danielle, and other relatives denounced the city's sanctuary practices after The Chronicle reported that Ramos, a Salvadoran native suspected of being in this country illegally, had committed felony attempted robbery and assault as a juvenile.
The Chronicle reported that officials with the Juvenile Probation Department, relying on their interpretation of San Francisco's sanctuary city ordinance, had not referred Ramos to federal immigration authorities for possible deportation. The ordinance bars city officials from cooperating with federal crackdowns on illegal immigrants.
After other Chronicle stories on the city's practices appeared, however, City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office reiterated a 1994 legal opinion that nothing in the law prevented the city from handing over juveniles to federal immigration authorities, if the minors have committed felonies.
The city attorney has 45 days to respond to the Bologna family's claim. The city typically rejects such claims, after which plaintiffs are free to file suit.
A spokesman for Herrera declined to comment on the matter Friday, saying attorneys had not yet reviewed the claim.
In response to the claim, Mayor Gavin Newsom released a statement saying, "I am deeply saddened by the Bologna family's terrible loss. My heart goes out to the family during this difficult time."
Nathan Ballard, the mayor's communications director, said it would be inappropriate for Newsom to comment on the specifics of the legal claim.
The claim does not make a specific request for damages.
Lawyers for Bologna's wife and his two surviving children assert in the claim that the city's sanctuary policy was illegal, reckless and a "substantial factor" in the slayings.
The claim says the city knew that Ramos was an illegal immigrant and was part of a gang, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), that attacked Latinos and African American men who were not members of the gang.
Police have theorized that Ramos shot the Bolognas because he mistook them for rival gang members. The father and his sons were shot in their car as they returned home from a Sunday afternoon family barbecue.
Ramos' attorney, Robert Amparan, has denied his client was a gang member or an illegal immigrant. Ramos has pleaded not guilty to the murder counts.
The Bolognas' claim asserts that the city knew that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were targeting illegal immigrant gang members for removal from the United States and would have sought to deport Ramos immediately had they known of his juvenile record.
"It was highly foreseeable that Ramos, upon his return to the streets of San Francisco, would murder men who appeared to be Latinos or African Americans," the claim says.
The claim places blame on the city's Juvenile Probation Department for adopting "official and unofficial policies" that amounted to unlawfully harboring illegal immigrants who committed violent crimes.
The claim says the city's sanctuary policies and practices violated federal laws that grant "unfettered discretion" to local authorities to report to immigration officials any "dangerous person" not in this country legally.
"There are clearly many, many restrictions on when and whether (San Francisco) police officers can communicate with the federal government on an individual's immigration status - and those restrictions played a role, in a significant way, to horrible events that unfolded on June 22," said one of the family's lawyers, Kris Kobach, a one-time counsel to former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"It was just a horrific tragedy because it was preventable," Kobach said. "If the city had followed the law, Anthony, Matthew and Michael Bologna would most certainly be alive today."
The claim cites a 2006 bulletin to police officers signed by Chief Heather Fong limiting how and when officers could communicate with immigration authorities.
It also cites a directive issued by Newsom in March 2007, which prohibited "dissemination" of immigration information by police or other city departments to the federal government unless the agencies were required to do so by U.S. law.
The claim says the city created an environment that was hostile to anyone who would report offenders for deportation.
"All of these official enactments, orders, mandates and endorsements of ... sanctuary policies were reinforced by an unwritten but enforced policy that discouraged police officers from reporting any illegal alien," the claim says.
E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle