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The Sheriff and the Accusations

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

After a New Year's Eve fight, former Venezuelan TV actress Eliana Lopez went to the home of neighbor Ivory Madison to talk about her husband's behavior. Madison later told police that she took video of a bruise on her friend's arm and had texts Lopez had sent that documented spousal abuse.

Because Lopez is married to newly elected San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, it's a big story. On Friday, District Attorney George Gascon filed three misdemeanor charges against Mirkarimi for domestic violence battery of his wife, child endangerment and dissuading a witness. Both Mirkarimi and Lopez deny the charges.

The usual organizations that combat domestic violence have called on Mirkarimi to step aside until the charges are resolved. Thus, in an only-in-San Francisco scenario, I'm stuck in the role of civil libertarian. Perhaps naively, I believe the sheriff is innocent until proven guilty. Absent a conviction, he should not have to forfeit his position even temporarily.

But also, I wonder whether Mirkarimi's alleged offense merits this level of prosecution.

As Public Defender Jeff Adachi observed, the case seems "overblown." The complaining witness has not come forward. Indeed, Lopez denies that Mirkarimi hurt her.

Madison, the third party, did not see anything firsthand. Prosecutors have to show "traumatic injury"; one bruise may not qualify. Adachi opined that they "shouldn't file a case unless they can prove it."

Gascon's office did not return my calls. Maybe the DA has the goods to win a conviction, even establish a pattern of abuse.

As for the other charges, the district attorney told the San Francisco Chronicle, where I work, that he filed the child endangerment charge because the couple's 2 1/2-year-old son was present when Mirkarimi abused his wife. Is that really child endangerment?

The DA also obtained a restraining order that prevents Mirkarimi from staying at his own home -- whether Lopez wants her husband home or not.

"I don't think an offense was committed," Mirkarimi's attorney, Bob Waggener, told me. And: "I think we're in a position of fighting the case and going to trial."

Let me be clear. If prosecutors prove that Mirkarimi hurt his wife or his son, I'll be rooting for a tough sentence. I want authorities to go after brutes who beat their wives or girlfriends. I want them to put violent louts behind bars before they kill an innocent woman. I want San Francisco to prosecute bad guys.

But I have to ask: Do San Franciscans really want to throw the full weight of the law at a man initially accused of bruising his wife's upper right arm? Is this battery?

I called San Francisco's Futures Without Violence, which called for Mirkarimi to take a timeout, to ask exactly what sentence the organization thinks would be appropriate for a husband bruising his wife's arm. A representative told me that without more information, President Esta Soler did not feel comfortable responding to the question.

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