Mayor Ed Lee has suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi without pay while he awaits an ethics hearing on whether he should be permanently removed from office.
The suspension came a day after Mirkarimi was sentenced to probation and counseling as a result of pleading guilty to false imprisonment in a high-profile domestic violence case involving his wife. Just hours after Monday’s sentencing, the mayor met with Mirkarimi and gave him a day to contemplate resigning, but the sheriff said Tuesday his conviction is not grounds for removal.
“He has chosen not to resign, and now I must act,” Lee solemnly told dozens of reporters in the Mayor’s Office Tuesday afternoon.
Moments earlier, Mirkarimi said Lee had no legal basis to call the wrongdoing “official misconduct” under the City Charter, which allows the mayor to initiate removal proceedings for public officials who display “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers.”
“I do not believe that the conduct — that I have taken responsibility for — constitutes official misconduct within the meaning of the law,” he said. He added that he “looks forward” to making his case to city decision-makers.
The mayor, who was flanked at his press conference by Dennis Herrera, said the City Attorney’s Office has built a comprehensive case to begin Mirkarimi’s removal and that the sheriff’s admission of guilt clearly violates standards laid out in the charter. Lee said last week there is also an implicit problem with the false imprisonment charge, given that the main responsibility of the Sheriff’s Department is oversight of local jails.
The misconduct charge will now be considered by The City’s Ethics Commission, and then move to the Board of Supervisors, where it would need the vote of nine of 11 members to be upheld.
Although supervisors may not weigh in on the matter before any decision is made, Mirkarimi could save his job as mayor with the backing of just three of its five solidly progressive members. But a statement from progressive stalwart and local Democratic Party Chairman Aaron Peskin suggests Mirkarimi might have a hard time finding support, even from political allies.
“His resignation best serves the people of San Francisco and all others concerned,” Peskin said in a lengthy statement. “I urge him to do so.” Peskin argued that Mirkarimi’s ability to lead the Sheriff’s Department has been “undeniably marred.”
Lee appointed law enforcement veteran Vicki Hennessy — no relation to former Sheriff Michael Hennessey — to serve as the new and first-ever female sheriff while Mirkarimi faces the charges. She formerly held high-ranking positions with the Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Emergency Management.
The mayor said she has experience managing big budgets and is well-qualified to stabilize a troubled department.
“I know I stand before you today amidst difficult times for The City, and especially the Sheriff’s Department,” she said in a brief statement.