SF sheriff charged with official misconduct

AP News
Posted: Mar 21, 2012 7:54 PM
SF sheriff charged with official misconduct

Over the past nine weeks, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi hasn't spoken to his wife and has seen his 3-year-old son only sporadically.

He also has denied accusations that he tried to pressure a next-door neighbor to destroy evidence and lie to police investigating a New Year's Eve dispute between the sheriff and his wife, the former star of a popular Venezuelan soap opera.

It's all part of the sheriff's emotional domestic violence case in which he pleaded guilty in court to a misdemeanor count of false imprisonment and is now the target of misconduct charges filed Wednesday by the mayor with city commissions that could force him from office.

Through it all, a growing media throng has watched as Mirkarimi cried while discussing his family, sweat profusely when defiantly refusing to resign, and even tried to duck questions by making his way through seldom used City Hall stairwells.

"Sorry to make you run," he told reporters as he speed-walked up two flights of stairs on Monday after meeting with Mayor Ed Lee, who gave him 24 hours to resign or face the misconduct charges.

Mirkarimi vowed to fight for his job, so Lee formally suspended him until the misconduct charges are resolved.

"It's been confusing," Mirkarimi told a crush of cameras and reporters Tuesday. "It's been intimidating."

Mirkarimi's fight promises to turn even more surreal and ugly in the weeks ahead.

The mayor on Wednesday swore in interim Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, a retired chief deputy of the department, and filed the formal misconduct case with the city's Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors.

"This has been a difficult time for San Francisco," Hennessy said after the swearing in. "This is not a celebration of me becoming sheriff."

The commission will investigate and then submit it recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in a very public fashion. Nine of the 11 supervisors would have to agree for Mirkarimi to be permanently removed from office after a public hearing.

The last time the process played out completely, a member of the Airport Commission was removed in the 1970s only to have a court reverse the decision two years later.

"It will be a circus," said Golden Gate University law school professor Peter Keane, a politically connected observer of many San Francisco City Hall soap operas.

San Francisco politics will also play a leading role in the Mirkarimi case. Before becoming sheriff on Jan. 8, he served two terms on the Board of Supervisors, where he was a reliable vote for the progressive wing of that body. Nonetheless, it appears his support from that quarter is wavering.

On Tuesday night, Aaron Peskin, head of the city's influential Democratic committee and a former progressive member of the Board of Supervisors, called on Mirkarimi to step down.

"For the residents of San Francisco, his ability to administer, manage and oversee the Sheriff's Department has been compromised and his adherence to duty and the law has been undeniably marred," Peskin said. "His resignation best serves the people of San Francisco and all others concerned."

Mirkarimi's trouble began New Year's Eve when he and his wife Eliana Lopez allegedly argued over her desire to take their 3-year-old son to visit relatives in her native Venezuela.

Lopez was a star of a popular soap opera in that country and the case has captured attention throughout Latin America.

Mirkarimi was originally charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, child endangerment and dissuading a witness after the next-door neighbor turned over a video to police showing a tearful Lopez displaying a bruised arm.

Those charges were dropped in exchange for Mirkarimi pleading guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment.

Neither Mirkarimi nor his wife have discussed in detail what happened on New Year's Eve to cause the bruise.

Lopez canceled an appearance at a press conference Tuesday after her next-door neighbor published an account in the San Francisco Chronicle that accused the sheriff and Lopez of pressuring him to destroy evidence and lie to police.

Lopez' attorney Paula Canny denied that accusation but declined further comment over concern about possible lawsuits.

Mayor Lee was not reluctant to provide details.

"During an argument with Ms. Lopez on that date, Sheriff Mirkarimi grabbed Ms. Lopez with such force that he bruised her upper right arm," Lee stated in the formal charges filed Wednesday. There were no other details about the incident.

Lee didn't take questions on Wednesday.

However, a day earlier he said, "Sheriff Mirkarimi's actions and confession of guilt clearly fall below these standards of decency and good faith, rightly required of all public officials."

Mirkarimi believes his actions failed to constitute official misconduct and he said he took full responsibility for the incident when he pleaded guilty.

He was sentenced Monday to three years of probation and a year of domestic violence counseling.

He said he was also undergoing counseling to address his arrogance and anger management issues.