Board Reinstates Mirkarimi as S.F. Sheriff

Outstanding News Story
San Francisco

Supporters of Ross Mirkarimi wave their hands in the air to show agreement with speeches made by the public during the hearing at San Francisco’s City Hall Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. Mirkarimi was reinstated as sheriff of San Francisco in a vote of 7-4 after almost 10 months of suspension for domestic violence.
PHOTO BY JESSICA WORTHINGTON / XPRESS

By Alex Emslie
SF State Xpress

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors rejected charges of official misconduct and reinstated Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on Oct. 9 in a special meeting that stretched more than nine hours.

Four supervisors voted to reinstate Mirkarimi as sheriff and seven voted to remove him. A three-fourths majority, or nine votes, was required to remove him.

“The board’s decision returns a convicted domestic batterer to lead the sheriff’s office,” Mayor Ed Lee wrote in an official statement, “and I am concerned about our city’s nationally recognized domestic violence programs.”

The suspense started shortly after 2 p.m. when the city’s ethics commission and mayor’s office presented their case that Mirkarimi’s guilty plea to misdemeanor false imprisonment of his wife amounted to official misconduct.

Mirkarimi was initially charged with domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading witnesses following a New Year’s Eve altercation with his wife during which the sheriff grabbed and bruised his wife Eliana Lopez’s arm. The criminal case was settled with a plea bargain in March, and Mirkarimi agreed to attend court-ordered counseling and was sentenced to three years probation.

The sheriff’s defense then presented Mayor Ed Lee’s charge of official misconduct as politically motivated and an extreme use of executive power. Attorneys David Waggoner and Shepherd Kopp told the board that Mirkarimi had made a mistake, but that his actions couldn’t be official misconduct because the domestic violence charges had nothing to do with his duties as sheriff and occurred before he was sworn into office.

“The mayor and I are not on the same team,” Mirkarimi told the Xpress when he was at SF State last week. “There’s no bad blood, but we have competing philosophies.”

About five hours of public comment stretched the proceedings into the night. Estimates on Twitter counted speakers in favor or Mirkarimi keeping his job, outnumbering those wanting him out 9-1.

Beverly Upton, executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, was one of outnumbered voices that urged the supervisors to oust Mirkarimi.

“This is a disciplinary action. It’s not election stealing,” she said to the board. “I know that today will take leadership and courage, and I know that you have it. The facts matter. The world is watching.”

The first vote, cast after 9:30 p.m. by District 5 Supervisor Cristina Olague, was in favor of Mirkarimi keeping his job and caught many political observers off guard because the mayor appointed her.

SF State political science professor Jason McDaniel said it shouldn’t be that surprising, though.

“The Christina Olague vote, in retrospect, makes sense,” McDaniel said. “District 5 is where Mirkarimi is most popular. And she is running to replace him. Her vote is a strong symbol to people on the left that she’s with them.”

District Attorney George Gascón released a condemning statement about the outcome of the vote.

Gascón said the sheriff should recuse himself from all domestic violence related duties of the sheriff.

“No victim of crime should fear that their call for help will go unanswered,” Gascón wrote. “No victim should have to consider whether their claim will be taken seriously because they are reporting it to an individual who has committed the same crime.”

Storify by Joe Fitzgerald, special to Xpress

This story was published online by the San Francisco State Golden Gate Xpress on Oct. 10, 2012.

Outstanding News StoryThis story was honored by the Xpress Excellence Awards on Oct. 15, 2012.

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