San Jose Officials Urge County to Change Sanctuary Policy After Church Homicide

December 5, 2020 Updated: December 5, 2020

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Police Chief Eddie Garcia are urging Santa Clara County to change its sanctuary city policy after they heard that an undocumented suspect in a stabbing spree is a repeat felon who has been deported three times.

Fernando De Jesus Lopez-Garcia, 32, allegedly stabbed five people on Nov. 22 around 7:54 p.m. at the Grace Baptist Church in San Jose.

A man died at the scene, and a woman died at a local hospital. Three others are in serious but stable condition.

“Currently, the Santa Clara County policy prohibits responding to immigration detainers, which allowed the suspect to be released,” said Garcia at a news conference on Nov. 25.

“Our hearts go out to the loved ones of the two victims who perished in this attack, and we pray for the rapid and full recovery of the three surviving victims,” said Liccardo at the same news conference.

He said the tragedy could have been avoided, stating there were multiple system failures. He said it highlights a need to get people off the street and into housing, to find a more balanced approach to the criminal justice system, and to notify the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when a violent undocumented immigrant is released into the community—something he has advocated for in the past.

“In those very rare circumstances where an undocumented offender has a record of violent or serious prior convictions, the county should be acting in accordance with the state’s Values Act, and notifying ICE that a person will be released out into the community unless ICE responds. In this case, I’m told that the county received an ICE detainer request but did not notify ICE of the defendant’s release,” Liccardo said.

The California Values Act, also known as SB 54, was passed in 2017 to prevent state and local resources from helping the federal government carry out mass deportations.

But there are exceptions (PDF) if the person is convicted of a serious, violent, or state prison felony. The mayor is urging the county to follow the law.

The church is used as a homeless shelter, providing meals and shelter services. The suspect is homeless and has taken shelter at the church before.

“The first unit arrived on scene within two minutes of the first 911 call. Callers reported that a male was actively stabbing people in the church. Callers reported that the suspect was still in the church, armed with a knife. Another told a dispatcher that a man was going crazy, stabbing people and there was blood everywhere,” Garcia said.

De Jesus Lopez-Garcia was charged with two murder counts, three counts of attempted murder, battery on a spouse or cohabitant, and violating a protective order.

He was arrested twice last year and released on unknown dates, but ICE was never notified.

In a response to the tragedy, San Francisco ICE ERO field office director David Jennings stated: “The only person this policy protected was a criminal; permitting him to reoffend over and over again. Had those immigration detainers been honored, or had ICE been notified on any of the other multiple occasions he was arrested and released from local jails, we would have taken him into custody. Regrettably, politics continues to prevail over public safety, the detainers were ignored, and De Jesus Lopez-Garcia was released to the street.”

Motivation for the stabbing is uncertain. Witnesses said the suspect seemed to be under the influence of drugs, but the police have not confirmed it at this point.