Suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi testified under oath Thursday night for the first time since abusing his wife, Eliana Lopez, during a Dec. 31 argument that has thrust his political and personal life into turmoil.
The sheriff-in-limbo faced a tense but mostly foundational line of questioning before The City’s Ethics Commission in his ongoing official misconduct hearings. They were prompted when Mayor Ed Lee suspended the newly elected sheriff without pay in March after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment to duck three domestic violence charges.
Mirkarimi primarily answered yes-or-no questions from Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith, although there were moments of animosity when Keith tried to establish an admission from the exact crime at hand.
Keith essentially read off conduct standards for the Sheriff’s Department that say any member convicted of a felony or misdemeanor is deemed to have fallen below standards of law enforcement conduct.
“You fell below that standard?” Keith asked.
“I pled to a misdemeanor,” Mirkarimi answered.
“That’s not what I asked,” Keith replied, repeating the question as to whether a criminal conviction constitutes misconduct.
“It can, yes,” Mirkarimi said.
Asked whether a sheriff is expected to display a good example to the rest of the department, Mirkarimi agreed and surmised that he could still serve as an effective leader if he displayed “redeeming behavior.”
Keith later asked Mirkarimi if he has “learned anything” from court-ordered domestic violence classes, eventually getting the suspended sheriff to agree with the general principle that convicted abusers have to take full responsibility for wrongdoing in order to be rehabilitated.
“Did you falsely imprison your wife?” Keith asked.
“Rephrase, please,” Mirkarimi responded.
Keith repeated the question.
“I pled to a 236 of the penal code,” Mirkarimi said.
Keith then rephrased the question: “Did you restrict your wife’s liberty?”
“Yes,” Mirkarimi replied.
Keith continued to grill Mirkarimi with questions related to why he didn’t include more details in his terse official declaration to the Ethics Commission since in a recent radio interview Mirkarimi expounded on far more aspects of the abuse incident.
“Because he asked,” Mirkarimi said of the radio host.
Asked how long it took him after the abuse incident to think about seeking therapy, Mirkarimi initially said, “About a week.” But he backtracked and said couples counseling had been an “ongoing discussion.”
Mirkarimi showed nerves through his testimony, but appeared more comfortable as it progressed. The only time he went beyond a “yes” or “no” response was to express remorse for bruising Lopez’s arm and acknowledging that it was an act of violence that was “something that I regret terribly.”
Mirkarimi’s testimony is scheduled to continue at City Hall this morning, followed by testimony from Lee.