The Sheriff Pleads Guilty

Debra J. Saunders

3/13/2012 12:01:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi agreed to a plea bargain on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge and two related charges that began with a New Year's Day argument during which Mirkarimi allegedly bruised his wife's arm. The district attorney dropped the three original charges; Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment. His sentence includes three years' probation, one year of domestic violence classes, plus family counseling, community service and fines. I'd add another item; Mirkarimi should tell San Francisco voters what happened.

Public defender Jeff Adachi summed up the deal: "The district attorney gave in by not insisting that the sheriff plea to a domestic violence charge. At the same time, the district attorney got the sheriff to agree to one year of domestic violence counseling." (Hence, the sheriff should be able to carry a gun.)

Is it a good deal for the city? I don't think voters will know until Mirkarimi levels with the public. Defense attorney Lidia Stiglich tells me he will do so after Monday's sentencing.

Mayor Ed Lee is reviewing his options, given a "new set of legal issues that must be thoroughly reviewed." One option could be to charge Mirkarimi with misconduct and push for his removal.

Bay Area Legal Aid staff attorney Minouche Kandel neatly summed up the oust-Mirkarimi argument: "I think it's problematic for a man who's been convicted of false imprisonment to lead a department whose purpose is imprisonment."

Attorney and former San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto, on the other hand, argued he should stay because "the people of San Francisco elected him." And Alioto is not a fan of Mirkarimi's reported behavior.

Optimists might call the outcome a win-win situation. Mirkarimi agrees to counseling without being weighed down with the professional baggage of a domestic violence conviction.

I'm not so sure.

Pretrial testimony got pretty ugly. An ex-girlfriend accused the sheriff of grabbing and bruising her arm four years ago -- which allowed experts to label Mirkarimi as a repeat offender. It doesn't matter that she didn't file charges at the time, because her testimony fits the narrative of abused women not talking because they are not empowered.

Two months after a stay-away order divided her family, Eliana Lopez, Mirkarimi's wife, hasn't emerged with the liberating rush of empowerment. Lopez didn't want this trial. Her attorney Paula Canny contends that in her client's opinion, "this shouldn't have been a criminal case."

I understand that men who abuse women often start with a shove that escalates to broken bones -- and horribly worse. Prosecutors want to stop an abuser before he becomes a batterer or a killer. A trial, however, is about not how a group acts, but what a defendant did or did not do.

The prosecution's "home run was," defense attorney Stiglich maintains, "if everything they say was true, he grabbed her arm too hard in an argument. And there's no context to it."

Now that Mirkarimi has pleaded guilty, after saying he wasn't, there's still no context to the story. It's time the sheriff shared what happened with the people of San Francisco.