Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi ended his tumultuous domestic violence case Monday by pleading guilty to false imprisonment, but that may not spell the end of his troubles. Mayor Ed Lee said he’s looking into whether the sheriff should now face suspension or removal from office.
Lee said he’s reviewing the legal issues involving whether Mirkarimi’s offense constitutes “official misconduct” under the City Charter. The mayor can initiate the sheriff’s removal, which would involve a hearing at The City’s Ethics Commission and ultimately depend on approval from three-quarters of the Board of Supervisors – nine of the 11 members. Under the charter, public officials can be subject to the process if they display “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers.”
Speaking with reporters Monday, Lee said he will take action against the sheriff if the facts of the case match the misconduct description.
“It would be my duty, if it does fulfill that category,” Lee said, noting the affair’s prominence in the press was a distraction to the Sheriff’s Department.
Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to the charge in connection with an alleged domestic violence incident involving his wife, Eliana Lopez, at the couple’s home. The original charges of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness will be dropped under the deal with prosecutors.
In a statement, the mayor said he recognizes the “troubling nature” of the guilty plea, given the sheriff’s primary role of overseeing inmates in local jails.
That irony also was not lost on domestic violence prevention advocates. Kathy Black, executive director of the women’s shelter La Casa de las Madres, said it would be improper for the sheriff to impose domestic violence sentencing conditions on inmates when he was convicted under similar circumstances.
“I think it would be best for everybody involved if he would step aside,” Black said.
Democratic strategist Nathan Ballard called Mirkarimi’s plea especially vexing, considering his role.
“You can’t simultaneously be your wife’s jailer and The City’s jailer,” Ballard said, adding that misconduct proceedings would hinge on the political will of the Board of Supervisors, where Mirkarimi served for eight years before being elected sheriff. “It’s a question of if the Board of Supervisors has the courage to uphold removal of somebody who may be their personal friend, and their former colleague.”