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'Sanctuary city' no haven for a family and its grief

July 26, 2008|Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Frank Kennedy is a third-generation San Franciscan, the son and grandson of local police officers and the proud owner of a Bay Area business. And this week he became Exhibit A for all he believes ails his hometown.

On Wednesday, a 21-year-old undocumented Salvadoran immigrant pleaded not guilty to murdering Kennedy's brother-in-law and two nephews in a case that has galvanized sentiment nationwide against this "sanctuary city" and its ambitious mayor.

Kennedy has spent much of the time since telling anyone who will listen that San Francisco and cities like it should stop shielding illegal immigrants from federal authorities and that officials here are responsible for his loved ones' deaths.

Suspect Edwin Ramos awaits trial in San Francisco County Jail, a system that released him nearly three months before the slayings. Convicted twice on felony charges as a juvenile, he was protected then from immigration officials because of the city's sanctuary policy.

"Any mayor, any board of supervisors that passes these laws should be prosecuted to the fullest," Kennedy said in a recent interview.

"This is not the United States of San Francisco . . . My family was the sacrificial lamb in this."

Immigration activists have embraced the grieving family, using the June 22 deaths of Anthony, Matthew and Michael Bologna to call for change. Conservative broadcasters have vilified the city and its officials all week.

Outraged e-mailers have lit up message boards for days. And federal immigration officials have demanded greater access to the city's jails, telling Mayor Gavin Newsom in a letter Wednesday that the sanctuary policy means they can't "prevent the release of these criminal aliens . . . "

CNN's Lou Dobbs asked Kennedy: "What is your reaction when you think about the fact that Mayor Newsom has with great, complete, sanctimonious arrogance defended the sanctuary policy of this city?"

On June 22, Anthony Bologna, 48, and his sons Matthew, 16, and Michael, 20, were driving back to their home in this city's Excelsior neighborhood from a family get-together at Kennedy's home.

Driving south on a narrow street, Bologna stopped the car, inadvertently blocking the path of a Chrysler 300M, authorities said. The Chrysler's driver pulled up alongside and began shooting. The father and his oldest son died at the scene. The younger boy died later at San Francisco General Hospital.

"That Sunday, we had breakfast, hugged each other, kissed each other and the kids," Kennedy said.

Later that day, the phone rang, and "the homicide inspectors told my wife her brother was shot and killed along with his son . . . . "

Bologna "was a wonderful individual and a great father," Kennedy said. "To have him assassinated in broad daylight with my two nephews is incomprehensible."

Three days later, police arrested Ramos of nearby El Sobrante. San Francisco Police Sgt. Neville Gittens said Ramos is allegedly a member of the violent Mara Salvatrucha gang.

He was charged with three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. Because of the serious nature of the crime -- including the fact that there were multiple victims -- state law would allow the death penalty to be invoked if Ramos is convicted.

Kennedy, his sister-in-law Danielle Bologna and various activist groups are calling on Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris to seek the death penalty in the case.

Harris is opposed to capital punishment and came under fire earlier in her career when she did not seek the death penalty in the murder of a San Francisco police officer. She has yet to decide whether to do so in the Bolognas' case.

The widespread uproar over the Bolognas' deaths began this week, after the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ramos had been found guilty of two felonies as a juvenile.

Because of the city's sanctuary policy -- enacted in 1989 -- local agencies do not consider immigration status when dealing with young offenders and therefore did not check whether Ramos was in the country legally.

Ramos was also arrested March 30 on a weapons violation, along with an alleged gang member riding in his car. After he spent several days in jail, authorities decided to file charges against the other man but not him, and Ramos was released, said Eileen Hirst, a sheriff's spokeswoman.

Deportation proceedings against Ramos could have been initiated but were not because of an apparent mix-up between the federal Immigration, Customs and Enforcement Agency and the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, which runs the jail.

Hirst said jail officials notified ICE two times that they had Ramos in custody but were told there was no government detainer against Ramos.

A detainer is the document that says there is probable cause to believe someone is in the country illegally. Without that, Hirst said, the Sheriff's Department could not hold Ramos.

But ICE spokesman Tim Counts said the jail contacted federal immigration officials only once -- at 3:44 a.m. April 2, two hours after Ramos had been released.

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