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Legal Claim: SFPD, Officer Liable for Deadly Shooting With Cop's Stolen Gun

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 (Alex Emslie/KQED)

The family of a community volunteer killed by a gun stolen from a San Francisco police officer filed a legal claim with the city Wednesday, alleging the Police Department failed to provide proper training on gun storage.

Abel Esquivel, 22, was killed during a robbery Aug. 15 as he walked to his mother's house after working a late shift at a grocery store. He volunteered at the Central American Resource Center, which provides legal help to low-income Latino clients and other social services.

Three men were arrested and charged with murder, including an 18-year-old facing deportation who was wearing a monitoring device so federal immigration authorities could track him.

The family's claim was filed at City Hall and seeks unspecified damages. It alleges that SFPD Officer Marvin Cabuntala's loaded .38-caliber revolver -- his personal weapon -- was left unattended in a private car rather than stored in a lockbox in the trunk.

The gun reportedly went missing on Aug. 11, but wasn't missed until it was seized during the service of a search warrant on Aug. 18, according to the claim.


If the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rejects the claim, lawyers said they will file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Attorney Alison Cordova represents Esquivel's mother. She said a state law passed in 2016 makes it a crime for law enforcement officers to leave firearms unsecured in vehicles.

"The unfortunate thing that we see is that the law is going unenforced against law enforcement," Cordova said. "This officer has not been criminally charged. He is still on active duty. It's shocking that there is a true lack of consequences."

The state law, which took effect several months before Esquivel's death, specifically applies statewide rules regarding storing and securing handguns in vehicles to active and retired law enforcement officers. Not doing so became an infraction, carrying a $1,000 fine.

City attorney spokesman John Cote said San Francisco lawyers are reviewing the claim.

"What's clear is that Mr. Esquivel's death was a tragedy, and we are heartbroken for his family," Cote said. "But our office also has a legal responsibility to San Francisco's taxpayers. Based on what we know now, the city is not liable for his death under the law."

Two separate lawsuits are pending in Northern California alleging that guns stolen from law enforcement officials were used in homicides, including the fatal shooting of Kate Steinle in July 2015.

A Mexican man living in the country illegally who had been deported five times was charged with murder after Steinle's death on a San Francisco pier, sparking a national debate over the country's immigration policies.

Steinle was shot with a gun stolen from a Bureau of Land Management ranger. A jury acquitted Jose Ines Garcia Zarate of killing her days after he released from jail under the city's "sanctuary city" law despite a federal request to detain him for deportation.

After the verdict, U.S. prosecutors charged him with illegal gun possession and he pleaded not guilty Tuesday.

The family of an Oakland artist is suing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency after a gun stolen from one of its agents was used to kill the man while he painted a mural under a freeway overpass.

Read the claim below.

This post contains reporting by the Associated Press.

Bill Cruz of KQED News contributed to this report.

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