San Francisco sheriff testifies to keep elected post

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 29, 2012 3:12 AM

By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Embattled San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, seeking reinstatement to his job after his conviction in a spousal-abuse case, told a city ethics commission he could still lead his law-enforcement agency by the example of his "redeeming behavior."

Mirkarimi testified before the panel on Thursday night in misconduct proceedings initiated against him by Mayor Ed Lee, who suspended the sheriff in March after the lawman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally restraining his wife.

The case grew out of a December 31 argument between Mirkarimi and his spouse, Venezuelan soap opera actress Eliana Lopez, over her plans to take their young son, Theo, to her home country.

In a cell phone video a neighbor took the next day, Lopez tearfully claimed her husband had grabbed her arm with such force that he left it black and blue. She said it was the second time he had hurt her.

The ensuing prosecution of Mirkarimi, a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and co-founder of California's Green Party, rocked the city's political establishment.

On January 13, five days after he was sworn in as sheriff, Mirkarimi was charged with misdemeanor counts of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness.

His subsequent deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to a single, lesser charge was structured to allow Mirkarimi to keep his badge and his gun. The sheriff was sentenced to a day in jail, which he has already served, and three years of probation.

But the mayor decided Mirkarimi's conduct amounted to a violation of the public trust and his role as a law enforcement officer, and has asked the city ethics commission to recommend dismissal of the sheriff.

Mirkarimi was called to appear Thursday as the first witness to testify in person before the five-member body, which began a series of hearings last week expected to stretch well into July. Previous witnesses in the case before the panel have presented written declarations.

Under questioning by the city attorney, who represents the mayor in the case, Mirkarimi acknowledged wrongdoing but said he never intentionally hurt his wife or any other woman.

"I grabbed my wife's arm and bruised it, something I regret terribly," he said. "I did it, and I take full responsibility. I reacted intensely to a quarrel, and I was wrong."

Asked whether he believed he could still effectively serve as the city's top elected law enforcement officer, Mirkarimi replied: "If the sheriff can demonstrate redeeming behavior, some of the employees may have that possibility too."

He is scheduled to resume his testimony on Friday.

Lopez refused to testify against her husband in the criminal case but filed a written statement earlier this week in the ethics proceedings, saying her husband "never hit me, punched me, battered me or beat me".

The sheriff's lawyers argue the mayor has overstepped his authority by seeking Mirkarimi's removal through a public ethics investigation.

The ethics panel will render a recommendation on the case, but the Board of Supervisors will ultimately decide whether to strip the sheriff of his badge.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Mark Heinrich)