Family of 23-year-old killed with cop’s stolen gun takes steps to sue city of San Francisco

Abel Esquivel

In the wee hours of Aug. 15, 2017, Abel Esquivel attempted to stagger the last block to the Mission flat he shared with his mother after being waylaid and shot in a botched robbery attempt.

He never made it. Esquivel, a 23-year-old Mission lifer who’d overcome hardships and obstacles to put himself on a trajectory for a meaningful life, died that morning. Three men were arrested for his shooting — with a gun stolen from a San Francisco police officer’s car.

This morning, Esquivel’s mother, Mayra Perez, filed an administrative claim, a necessary precursor to bringing suit against the city, naming San Francisco, the SFPD and Officer Marvin Cabuntala. 

“Abel lived with Ms. Perez, and they had a very close relationship. He helped support her,” said Alison Cordova, an attorney for the family. “There was, obviously, a shooter. That person has some responsibility. But, at the end of the day, that person never would have been able to kill someone if he hadn’t been given access to a lethal, loaded weapon. Law enforcement, in San Francisco and generally across the country, are failing to take adequate measures to store and secure lethal weapons.”

Esquivel was allegedly killed by undocumented gunmen on the short list for deportation, wielding a gun filched from a law-enforcement officer’s vehicle. His demise drew immediate comparisons to the 2015 shooting of Kathryn Steinle on Pier 14 — and, as in that case, litigation against the city appears imminent.

Cordova is taking aim at San Francisco via Cabuntala. She believes the veteran cop’s failure to secure his firearm in his car may be tied to his employment as a city police officer.  

“It has been widely reported that the San Francisco Police Department is investigating Cabuntala’s failure to secure his firearm, implying the handgun and/or vehicle is related to or somehow connected to Cabuntala’s employment with the San Francisco Police Department,” reads her brief.

According to statements from Police Officers Association president Marty Halloran, Cabuntala did not realize that his .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, speed loader, jacket, and holster had been purloined from his car until the alleged thieves committed a bevy of hold-ups with them and allegedly murdered Esquivel days later. This strikes Cordova as odd.

“It is also highly suspicious that Cabuntala, a highly decorated police veteran, did not notice the numerous missing items from his vehicle within the approximate one week’s time that the items were missing,” reads today’s filing.

This was just one of a rash of shootings — local and national — committed with a stolen law-enforcement firearm. If you’re wondering if there are laws regarding this — yes, there are. State law forbids cavalier storage of guns and even has a specific subsection mandating “a peace officer and an honorably retired police officer shall, when leaving a handgun in an unattended vehicle, secure the handgun in the vehicle,” according to the dictates of the law. Locally, then-Supervisor David Campos in 2016 pushed through tighter rules regarding storing guns in cars; following Esquivel’s death, he said this was the exact situation he was trying to prevent.

While the scenario of Esquivel’s shooting was eerily similar to that of Steinle, a national furor did not commence after the death of a Nicaraguan American at the hands of undocumented Latino felons as it did following the death of a beautiful blonde woman from the suburbs at the hands of an undocumented Latino felon. As Mission Local wrote last year, “maybe it’s complicated. But maybe it’s not.” 

Cordova, however, says it’s wrong to use Esquivel as a talking point in discussions about sanctuary policies or anything else. “I don’t think Abel’s death is about ICE detainer requests or immigration,” she said. “That’s not really honoring Abel’s memory. If people knew him, they knew he was actively volunteering and providing support to immigrant communities in San Francisco. His own mother was an immigrant. This was near and dear to his heart.”

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6 Comments

  1. Pat Cogan

    Mission Local has done multiple stories on the unsecured police gun and virtually zero follow up on the criminal who is actually accused of killing this young man. Jesus Perez-Arauj was arrested in the case, but we know nothing about him (apart that he was an undocumented immigrant on ICE detainer), and no news whatsoever on his case. Has he been charged? Is he in jail? Deported? Cut loose by Gascon?

    There’s been a tremendous amount of noise about the progressive view that the gun theft victim is the major suspect in this case, but a deafening silence about the real culprit.

    • Patrick Waller

      The Sheriff’s Department – ostensibly a “law enforcement agency” not only released him, but removed his ankle monitor:

      Garcia-Pineda was arrested on Aug. 18 in connection with one of them that occurred in the hours after the homicide. He was arrested for assault, firing into an occupied dwelling and receiving stolen property, but no charges were filed pending further investigation. It is not clear whether immigration officials asked that he be held in that case, but his monitoring bracelet was cut off by deputies as of Aug. 19, Schwab said. It is standard to remove such trackers because they pose an inmate safety risk, officials say.

      (https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Teen-Wanted-for-Deportation-Is-Accused-of-Stealing-San-Francisco-Police-Officers-Gun-Killing-Community-Activist-444726323.html)

      This is public safety? It’s more of a revolving door.

    • Pat Cogan

      Oops I see that the man I mentioned in an earlier comment, Jesus Perez-Arauj was among 3 men arrested in the case, but it turns out that Erick Garcia-Pineda is the one accused of pulling the trigger…. Which illustrates my point even more. Incredibly, in in his efforts to shape the narrative to his own political beliefs, the author of this article does not even mention any of the men arrested in the case — not even the one accused of the murder, but rather focuses on some pet progressive side issue about where the gun was stolen from.

      Both sides of the political spectrum (Progressives blaming the police for having their weapons stolen and then used in the crime; Conservatives blaming the Sheriff’s department for not cooperating with ICE when ICE seeks to detain these undocumented immigrants on other charges prior to the murder) engage in hijacking the stories of these victims.

      Interestingly, the attorney for Abel Esquivel’s mother is quick to blame law enforcement for the gun being stolen, but for political reasons, dismisses blaming the Sheriff’s department for not cooperating with ICE to keep this dangerous criminal off the streets. – http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-deportation-murder-20170915-story.html

      In either case, it’s a sad commentary on “San Francisco values” when responsibility for these crimes is so often not placed on the criminal himself, but rather deflected to place the blame on law enforcement.

      • Joe Eskenazi Post author

        Pat —

        Thanks for reading. Rather than “shaping the narrative to my own political beliefs,” I was instead doing something called “reporting the news.” The news in this case isn’t that Esquivel is dead or that three men have been arrested in his murder but that his survivors are suing the city, alleging negligence in gun storage from a city employee.

        Without slipping down a rabbit hole, you’re overlooking a couple of key details with regard to the undocumented immigrants alleged of his murder. First, when the bracelet was removed at county jail — which is longstanding policy — it ought to have immediately registered with the monitoring agency, just as it would if it was removed with a rock or hacksaw. But they never showed up to collect the prisoner, even though he was incarcerated for some time, and the GPS would have revealed he was in jail. So, that’s a problem.

        Second, with regard to keeping a “dangerous criminal” off the street, if memory serves, the prior crimes committed by Esquivel’s alleged killers were something like dealing weed. Not every two-bit, teenage criminal is liable to go off on a robbery and shooting spree. But ICE would have this city detain every undocumented teenage two-bit criminal.

        You’re also overlooking that the criminal case against Esquivel’s accused killers is proceeding in criminal court and is being prosecuted by the District Attorney. If this suit comes to pass, it’d be a civil matter.

        Best,

        JE

  2. Ricardo Ruiz

    Lets not kid ourselves. They are sueing the taxpayer (residents of SF) this will leave less money to fund education and provide affordable childcare for single mothers. Sad but true.

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