With his wife smiling by his side, new San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi vowed Sunday to fight the domestic violence allegation that cast a pall over his otherwise jubilant inauguration.
“Believe it or not, this is one of the happiest days of my life,” the former supervisor told a packed audience that included many progressive San Francisco politicians — but notably not Mayor Ed Lee, police Chief Greg Suhr, District Attorney George Gascón or Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein.
Click on the photo at right to see a slideshow of photos from Mirkarimi's inauguration.
Gascón and his staff are now deciding whether to charge the new sheriff for an alleged New Year’s Eve incident in which Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, reportedly suffered a bruised upper arm. A neighbor later called police.
Lopez, wearing a sleeveless dress and revealing no obvious bruises, clutched her husband around the waist as he was sworn in by former Mayor Art Agnos as The City’s 35th sheriff.
Mirkarimi later told reporters that he had never physically or verbally abused his wife. He called the allegations “a private matter, a family matter.”
Lopez was more vocal, saying the incident was “completely taken out of context.”
“This is completely wrong, I have to say,” she said.
Mirkarimi insisted the investigation would not affect his job performance, but also referred vaguely to powers in city government that he said may be behind the political firestorm.
“I’d like to believe that there are forces at work that want to stop me from becoming sheriff,” Mirkarimi said.
Nonetheless, Mirkarimi — who won a close election in November to replace longtime Sheriff Michael Hennessey — laid out an agenda that he said would carry on his predecessor’s progressive spirit, including an emphasis on rehabilitation of inmates.
“I do believe in the power of redemption,” he told the audience.
But Mirkarimi also acknowledged the investigation that has overshadowed his first day in office.
“I am sorry that a cloud hangs over what should be a very special day,” he said, adding that his family and supporters deserve better. “But you know what?” he added. “Clouds break and the possibilities shine through.”
The prospect of criminal prosecution notwithstanding, Mirkarimi faces many challenges as overseer of the county jails, which have begun receiving an influx of new inmates under state realignment.
He pledged to address the disproportionate number of minorities in custody; to increase their access to jobs and housing upon re-entry to society; and to establish a working group on mental health issues.
In one clearly uncomfortable inaugural moment, Mirkarimi noted to the audience that the electoral campaign for sheriff brought attention to that often-overlooked position, and that he had feared a lack of media coverage on his
“But I think we took care of that,” Mirkarimi said, chuckling, while a few in the audience groaned.
District Attorney George Gascón said he expects his office to decide this week whether to charge new Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in connection with an alleged New Year’s Eve domestic violence incident.
Police handed their investigation over to prosecutors on Friday without making an arrest.
“We’re reviewing it and we’ll evaluate and make a decision … within the next few days,” Gascón said Sunday. “My first and primary concern is for the alleged victim’s welfare.”
A female neighbor of Mirkarimi called police last Wednesday saying that Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, had told her she was a victim of domestic violence, according to a police affidavit obtained by The San Francisco Examiner.
The neighbor, Ivory Madison, described Lopez as “hesitant to report the incident to police due to Mr. Mirkarimi’s position in San Francisco government,” the affidavit read.
Madison reportedly videotaped a bruise on Lopez’s upper arm that Lopez said she sustained when Mirkarimi grabbed her, according to the affidavit. Police obtained a search warrant and seized the video camera and a cellphone said to contain text messages about the incident.
The new sheriff and former member of the Board of Supervisors denied Sunday that he had ever abused his wife.
“I trust in the system, and we have to let the system sort this out,” Mirkarimi said.
If convicted of a felony, Mirkarimi would be removed from office under state law. Removal for a misdemeanor conviction would be less certain.
As a top law enforcement officer accused of a violent crime, Mirkarimi’s image could suffer politically in a re-election bid, Golden Gate University law professor Peter Keane said.
“This is a pretty serious handicap for someone who’s a sheriff,” he said. But Keane added that he did not think simply being charged with a crime would bring overwhelming pressure for Mirkarimi to step down.
“San Francisco is a fairly tolerant town, and fairly sophisticated about the whole presumption of innocence,” Keane said.
Gascón was one of several notable public officials, including the mayor and the police chief, who didn’t attend Mirkarimi’s public inauguration on Sunday.
“I personally feel it would be a conflict for me to attend the ceremony, given that we’re reviewing an investigation involving the sheriff,” Gascón said.
Who showed up and who didn’t at Ross Mirkarimi’s inauguration.
Supervisor David Campos
Supervisor John Avalos
Supervisor Scott Wiener
Supervisor David Chiu
Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White
Public Defender Jeff Adachi
Mayor Ed Lee
Police Chief Greg Suhr
District Attorney George Gascón
Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein