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.”