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Police: Suspect in church stabbings has criminal history

A man suspected in the fatal stabbings of two people and the wounding of three others at a San Francisco Bay Area homeless shelter has a history of domestic violence and had been deported at least three times, officials said Wednesday.

Fernando Jesus Lopez, 32, was on probation in San Joaquin County for felony domestic violence and was wanted in Santa Clara County on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge when he allegedly stabbed five people Sunday at San Jose's Grace Baptist Church, San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia said.

After his arrest in June in Santa Clara County, a judge released Lopez despite the fact that he had violated the conditions of his five-year probation out of the San Joaquin County and Santa Clara County had received a detention request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Garcia said.

Garcia said the deaths were preventable and pointed to the county's so-called sanctuary law that limits cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

“We cannot avoid the conclusion that this was preventable,” Garcia said. “Multiple system failures led to this moment.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo echoed Garcia’s frustration with the judge’s decision to release Lopez “over the strong objections of our district attorney.”

“This suspect had a long record of domestic violence and drug use, and he should have been in jail, in federal custody, in drug treatment, or in jail in his own country but not on the streets in our community,” Liccardo said.

Liccardo has been pushing Santa Clara County to reconsider a policy that ignores federal hold requests for felons, urging officials to treat violent criminals in the country illegally differently from the rest of those who entered the U.S. without legal permission.

“These failed policies are all within our control to change and we need to change them,” he said.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted last year to retain the county's policy of not holding immigration suspects unless ICE agents present the county with a warrant or a judicial order despite pressure to change it after the February 2019 slaying of 54-year-old Bambi Larson.

Police arrested Carlos Eduardo Arevalo Carranza, an immigrant from El Salvador who had been on the radar of ICE since 2013, in Larson’s killing when officials said he failed to show up in immigration court.

Lopez, who was convicted in Santa Clara in 2011 for assault with a deadly weapon and given a two-year prison term, was a frequent guest at Grace Baptist Church and often helped staff set up services for dozens of homeless people who took refuge at the church during cold nights, Garcia said.

It wasn't immediately known if Lopez has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.

Garcia said four of the victims were homeless and one was a city employee volunteering at the shelter. Results from a toxicology report are pending but witnesses told police he appeared to be under the influence of drugs, he said.

Liccardo identified the city employee as Nguyen Tran and said he is recovering and is expected to be released from the hospital soon. Two other men who were wounded remained hospitalized in stable condition and are expected to survive.

The names of a man and a woman who died will be released by the Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office after their families are notified, officials said.

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