The San Francisco District Attorney claims the New Year's Eve domestic violence incident at Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's house was not an isolated incident.
“We have information that there might have been other incidents,” District Attorney George Gascón said during a press conference Friday afternoon announcing the three misdemeanor charges in connection with the New Year's Eve disturbance involving his wife, Eliana Lopez.
Click on the photo to the right to see the Ross Mirkarimi booking photo and photos from the George Gascón press conference.
Mirkarimi left City Hall on Friday afternoon to be booked into a jail facility he oversees as sheriff. He vowed to fight the charges of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness. Bail was set at $35,000 for Mirkarimi, and Gascón said Mirkarimi will be required to surrender any guns he owns including his service weapon.
"I believe that these charges are very unfounded," said Mirkarimi, who is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday. "And we will fight these charges and I am confident that in the end that we will succeed in showing the missteps.”
An emergency protective order was issued requiring Mirkarimi to stay away from his wife and son. Gascón did not know how long the protective order would be in effect. The sheriff plans to stay with friends over the three-day weekend, according to his attorney.
Lopez, as she has before, defended her husband Friday as they left City Hall holding hands.
"This is unbelievable,” she said. “As I said before, I don’t have any complaint against my husband. We are together and we are fighting. We are going to fight this. This is my family. My husband and my son. This is unbelievable. This is completely wrong."
Gascón said the charges were filed after a “careful and thorough” review of the evidence.
“No one is above the law,” Gascón said. “Whether this was the elected sheriff or any other San Francisco resident, this type of behavior is inexcusable, criminal and will be prosecuted.”
Mirkarimi was charged with child endangerment because prosecutors have evidence the sheriff’s 2-year-old son was present during the alleged domestic violence incident, Gascón said. The District Attorney also said prosecutors believe Mirkarimi attempted to stop a witness – it was unclear if he meant Lopez or someone else -- from calling police to report the crime.
Lopez has retained her own attorney, Gascón said, and prosecutors have been unable to interview her. Gascón said it was not uncommon in domestic violence cases for victims to refuse to cooperate with police.
If convicted, Mirkarimi could serve up to a year in county jail.
The New Year’s Eve incident was reported to police by a female neighbor of Mirkarimi, Ivory Madison, who said Lopez spoke to her about it the following day, according to a San Francisco Police Department search warrant affidavit obtained last week by The San Francisco Examiner.
Madison came forward to police three days later, saying Lopez had told her she had been a victim of domestic violence but had been “hesitant to report the incident to the police due to Mr. Mirkarimi’s position in San Francisco government.” Lopez had a bruise on her upper right arm from where Mirkarimi had grabbed her, Madison told police.
The injury was reportedly recorded on Madison’s video camera, which police have seized, along with Madison’s cell phone, which police said contained text messages between the two women about the incident.
Mirkarimi’s attorney Bob Waggener has called the case against his client “flimsy.” He said Mirkarimi would return to work on Tuesday following the holiday weekend.
In a statement, Mayor Ed Lee said the charges brought against the sheriff “are extremely serious and troubling.”
The mayor has the power to suspend the sheriff, and any other elected official, under the city charter for “official misconduct” and initiate removal proceedings.
It’s unclear if the alleged incident and charges could qualify as official misconduct.
“As Mayor, I must now review the facts and options available to me under the City Charter, but I must also ensure that we do not take steps that undermine the integrity of the criminal justice proceedings underway,” Lee said in the statement.
Following his public inauguration as sheriff last Sunday, Mirkarimi denied to reporters that he had ever physically or verbally abused his wife, calling the New Year’s Eve incident “a private manner, a family matter.”
“I trust in the system, and we have to let the system sort this out,” Mirkarimi said at the time. But he also intimated that “there are forces at work that want to stop me from becoming sheriff.”
Lopez told reporters that day that the incident was “completely taken out of context.”
Mirkarimi and Lopez, who met in Brazil, live together in the Western Addition and have a 2-year-old son. Lopez is a former Venezuelan soap opera star.
Mirkarimi, who has lived in The City more than 25 years, was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2004. His district covered neighborhoods that include the Western Addition, Hayes Valley, the North Panhandle, Lower Pacific Heights and the Inner Sunset. He was re-elected in 2008 as supervisor.
A former Green Party leader turned Democrat, Mirkarimi also graduated from the San Francisco police academy and served as an investigator in the District Attorney’s Office. He is considered one of The City’s most prominent politically progressive voices.
In November, Mirkarimi won a close election with 38 percent of the vote, narrowly beating former undersheriff and police union president Chris Cunnie, as well as sheriff’s Capt. Paul Miyamoto. He succeeded former Sheriff Mike Hennessey, who retired after 32 years and had endorsed Mirkarimi in the election.
SF Examiner Staff Writer Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report.