A homeless man accused of fatally stabbing two people inside a California church over the weekend was deported three times and never turned over to federal immigration officials before the attack, despite multiple arrests and convictions for violent crimes, authorities said Wednesday.
On Sunday, Fernando De Jesus Lopez-Garcia, 32, allegedly stabbed five people inside the Grace Baptist Church in San Jose. A man died at the scene and a woman later died at a hospital, San Jose Police Chief Edgardo Garcia said Wednesday during a news conference.
The lack of cooperation between local police and federal immigration agents because of California's sanctuary policies was criticized by a high ranking federal agent who said the attack could have been avoided.
"Regrettably, politics continues to prevail over public safety, the detainers were ignored, and De Jesus Lopez-Garcia was released to the street," said David Jennings, San Francisco ICE Enforcement Removal Operations field office director.
Lopez-Garcia is charged with two murder counts, three counts of attempted murder, battery on a spouse or cohabitant and violating a protective order.
"On three prior occasions, Lopez had been deported and then ultimately returned to the United States," Garcia, the police chief, said.
The church frequently provided shelter and meals to homeless people in the area, officials said. Lopez-Garcia had utilized its services in the past and sometimes worked with church staff to set up services, officials said.
Four of the stabbing victims were homeless and another was a city employee and volunteer working at the church. The names of the victims will not be released, the police chief said.
Lopez-Garcia's criminal history includes convictions for disturbing the peace, giving false information to police, resisting arrest and assault with a deadly weapon, which resulted in a two-year prison sentence.
At the time of the stabbing, he had a pending misdemeanor domestic violence charge in Santa Clara County that stemmed from a June arrest. He was granted supervised release, which was revoked after failing to appear in court.
The release was over the objection of the Santa Clara District Attorney's Office. At the time of his June arrest, Lopez-Garcia, a Mexican citizen, was on probation for a felony domestic violence conviction in a nearby county, officials said.
An immigration detainer was sent to the Santa Clara County jail to hold Lopez-Garcia so Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents could take him into custody upon his release. Notification to ICE would have been allowed under California's sanctuary policy, Garcia said, but the request was not honored and he was released.
The county's sanctuary policy bars local law enforcement agencies from contacting ICE about the pending release of inmates who had been living in the United States without legal permission.
“Here we have catastrophic proof of the abject failure of California’s sanctuary policies. The only person this policy protected was a criminal; permitting him to reoffend over and over again," Jennings, the ICE field director, said. "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.
Mayor Sam Liccardo said "multiple system failures" allowed the Lopez-Garcia to continue to re-offend.
"This defendant should not have been out on the street," he said. "In those very rare circumstances when an undocumented offender has a record of violent or serious prior convictions, the county should be acting in accordance with the (California) Values Act in notifying ICE that a person will be released out into the community."
Santa Clara's sanctuary policies came under heavy scrutiny last year after the March 2019 killing of Bambi Larson in San Jose. Authorities said Carlos Eduardo Arevalo Carranza, who has a long criminal history with numerous arrests and gang ties, stalked the 59-year-old before stabbing her to death.
He was deported in 2013 and re-entered the U.S. illegally, authorities said. Multiple ICE detainers requesting notification of his release from county jails were ignored.