Whether suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is fit to remain one of San Francisco’s top law enforcement officials consumed City Hall on Thursday and Friday with lengthy hearings that appear to have established only one clear fact so far — he forcefully grabbed and bruised his wife’s arm during a Dec. 31 argument.
Having pleaded guilty to a domestic violence misdemeanor in March, the sheriff-in-limbo openly admits causing the injury to his wife, Eliana Lopez. But he also categorically denied any attempt to cover up the incident in the ensuing days, as he prepared to take office after being elected in November.
Mayor Ed Lee’s official misconduct suspension in March was made on grounds that Mirkarimi not only committed violence against his wife, but also attempted to dissuade witnesses, most notably the couple next door whom his wife initially sought out for help.
If The City’s Ethics Commission decides the violence alone does not constitute misconduct, how Mirkarimi handled the fallout could be the key to the case.
Prosecutors from the City Attorney’s Office homed in on comments Mirkarimi made during and after his Jan. 8 inaugural address, with Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith suggesting that the newly minted sheriff made light of the violence. During the speech, Mirkarimi joked that he had been worried the ceremony wouldn’t get much attention, but that the controversy surrounding his wife “took care of that,” he said, chuckling.
On Friday, Mirkarimi said he was simply trying to “break the ice” with the crowd during an uncomfortable time.
After the inauguration event, Mirkarimi responded to press questions, but he declined to answer either way when asked directly whether he had abused his wife, instead saying it was a “private family matter.”
In cross-examination, Keith asked Mirkarimi, “Is domestic violence a private family matter?”
Mirkarimi replied that he doesn’t believe domestic violence should be suppressed within a household. He later answered that he knew at the time he made the comment that he had injured his wife and that what he did was wrong.
The proceedings are set to continue July 18 and 19, when Lopez and Linnette Peralta Haynes, Mirkarimi’s campaign manager, are expected to testify. After that, the Ethics Commission is expected to submit a written record to the Board of Supervisors, which will vote on whether to reinstate Mirkarimi or remove him from office