Today, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is expected to be arraigned in criminal court on three misdemeanor charges stemming from an alleged domestic violence incident at his home on New Year’s Eve. He will then return to his office and get busy on a wide range of law enforcement issues, including rehabilitation programs for domestic violence abusers and services for the victims. There is something very wrong with this picture.
Of course, Mirkarimi is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, just like any other accused American defendant. But a higher standard of trust is demanded of top-ranking public officials — especially those in law enforcement. Even when police officers (or sheriff’s deputies) are under suspicion of criminal behavior, they can routinely expect a desk duty assignment or suspension with or without pay until the charges are cleared up.
Nothing less than that standard should be applied to the chief of an entire public safety agency. At the very least, Mirkarimi should put himself on administrative leave, similar to what the San Francisco Police Department command staff did during the Fajitagate investigation.
But more realistically, Mirkarimi should simply resign.
Unless this sheriff is absolutely cleared of all charges against him, there will always be too much of a “cloud” — as he has flippantly referred to it — hanging over Mirkarimi to enable him to function effectively as the new sheriff of San Francisco. It is saddening that a once-promising political career is now at high risk of disintegrating. But the county and city of San Francisco is entitled to have a sheriff who has earned enough public trust to get the job done right.
Especially now, because of the state plan to cut funding and divert some prisoners to local jails, significant new responsibilities will be placed on the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. Our sheriff will have the power to weigh in on the sentencing of the hundreds of transferred state prisoners — in collaboration with the District Attorney’s Office, which is currently prosecuting him. How effective could that relationship possibly be? And even more troubling, how many defense lawyers would cite Mirkarimi’s own troubles as grounds for disputing a client’s sentencing?
In addition, the sheriff must now work more closely with state officials on fiscal, policy and probationary matters. San Francisco needs to be represented by a public official who can successfully garner the resources we will need, without the added burden of questions consistently being raised about his character.
Much has been made about Mirkarimi’s self-righteous handling of his crisis — callously joking during his own inauguration, a political consultant offering a statement on behalf on his wife, his insistence that the allegations are an invasion of privacy. He has blamed his political rivals, dodged questions and refused to cooperate with the investigation. He tried to claim the situation is a personal family matter, which it is most certainly not in the eyes of the law.
Whatever the outcome of the domestic abuse allegations, Mirkarimi’s stonewalling of the investigation and his seeming total denial of any culpability whatsoever proves he is not the man who should be leading a powerful law enforcement agency.