The first of two final judgments on suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s future will be made this month by The City’s Ethics Commission, which has now heard every last account, opinion and expression of outrage that San Francisco could muster. Commissioners spent months at the center of an epic maelstrom of public intrigue and mounting legal paperwork.
But among all the arguments, only one fact is universally accepted: that Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to the crime of misdemeanor false imprisonment in connection with a domestic violence incident involving his wife, Eliana Lopez. The rest comes down to one’s perspective, and a question of whom to believe.
When Mayor Ed Lee began removal proceedings against Mirkarimi by suspending him without pay, the charges did not just note that San Francisco would be employing a sheriff with a criminal record. The mayor’s charges also asserted that Mirkarimi tried to prevent witnesses from coming forward about crimes against his wife, and that he used his official influence to intimidate Lopez into thinking that if she tried to end their relationship, he would easily win custody of the couple’s 3-year-old son, Theo.
Neighbor Ivory Madison, who helped Lopez make the widely viewed evidentiary video of her bruised arm and first brought the abuse to police, says she saw clear signs of dissuasion and misuse of political power. Lopez and Mirkarimi’s campaign manager say they did not.
Lopez testified that she confided to Madison about her marital problems and custody worries until the neighbor became too aggressive and incessantly repeated “screw him” in reference to Mirkarimi.
“I felt betrayed,” Lopez testified, later saying she regretted making the video and never wanted police involved. “I felt I betrayed Ross.”
Madison claimed that Mirkarimi campaign manager Linnette Peralta Haynes encouraged her to lie to police and say she was confused and was talking about a different couple when she reported the incident. But Peralta Haynes denied dissuading Madison or Lopez from contacting authorities, even though phone records show that she repeatedly contacted both Mirkarimi and Lopez on that day.
Given these conflicting accounts, ethics commissioners must choose whose story — if any — to believe. Expert testimony noted that the majority of domestic violence victims back down from their complaints and defend their abusers. But that would all be moot if commissioners decide the misdemeanor conviction alone is sufficient reason to recommend Mirkarimi’s ouster.
That’s the mayor’s main point — that Mirkarimi’s conviction and three-year probation clearly prevent him from overseeing a department that includes domestic violence prevention programs and probation administration in general. But that logic was contested in written testimony by retired Sheriff Michael Hennessey, a Mirkarimi campaign supporter who held the post for more than 30 years and noted that convictions are not so uncommon among department members.
“During my tenure as sheriff I hired a number of individuals with criminal records to work in the county jails,” Hennessey wrote. “I am also aware of more than one San Francisco deputy sheriff who was arrested for domestic violence or child endangerment charges.”
The commission is set on Aug. 16 to issue a verbal recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which is expected to make a decision by October. It would take votes from nine of 11 supervisors to remove Mirkarimi from office.