By Gerry Shih
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco's mayor suspended embattled Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on Tuesday and initiated misconduct proceedings to remove him from office after the sheriff admitted to restraining his wife during a quarrel on New Year's Eve.
Mirkarimi, who in January became the city's first new sheriff in three decades, had faced pressure to resign since pleading guilty last week to a lesser misdemeanor charge in his domestic violence case, in a deal his supporters had said would allow him to keep his badge and gun.
"Ross Mirkarimi has now pled guilty to falsely imprisoning his wife. After careful review of the City Charter and the evidence before me, I am suspending and formally charging Ross Mirkarimi with official misconduct," Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement.
The announcement came shortly after Mirkarimi, whose saga has stirred a local political uproar and drawn intense media coverage, told reporters he had no intention of resigning and would be happy to face an ethics committee and the city's board of supervisors.
"I am still very able to be the sheriff of San Francisco," Mirkarimi told reporters. "At this time, I do not plan to resign being sheriff."
"I do not believe that the conduct that I have taken responsibility for constitutes official misconduct within the meaning of the law, and I look forward to making my case to the ethics commission and the board of supervisors," he said.
The case against Mirkarimi, who was sentenced to a day in jail and three years of probation, grew out of an argument with his wife, Venezuelan television actress Eliana Lopez, over her plans to take their 2-year-old son, Theo, on a trip to her home country.
In a video shot by her neighbor the day after the incident, Lopez said that Mirkarimi, 50, had grabbed her with such force that he left a bruise on her arm. Lopez, 36, later said she did not wish to testify against her spouse.
Mirkarimi, who had faced misdemeanor charges of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness, ultimately pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of restraint on liberty.
Lee, who said the suspension would take effect "as early as tomorrow," named as Mirkarimi's replacement retired law enforcement officer Vicki Hennessy, who in 1983 became the youngest captain in California law enforcement.
To permanently remove Mirkarimi from office, Lee would need to gather support from at least nine of 11 members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Lee said the city's ethics commission would begin a process of making a recommendation to the board in five days.
(Reporting by Gerry Shih; Writing By Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Greg McCune)