SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5 / KCBS) — San Francisco’s newly sworn-in sheriff was charged with three misdemeanor crimes, including battery, stemming from a New Year’s Eve domestic dispute with his wife, prosecutors announced late Friday.
Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi faced one count each of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness, according to District Attorney George Gascon.
“Whether this was the elected sheriff or any other San Francisco resident,” Gascon said, “this type of behavior is inexcusable, criminal and will be prosecuted. We are treating this case as we would any of the hundreds of domestic violence cases we review and charge each year.”
The case against Mirkarimi stemmed from an incident in which he allegedly grabbed and bruised wife Eliana Lopez’s arm during a heated argument at their home, according to a police affidavit. Investigators also seized a video camera that reportedly recorded the injury and an iPhone used to exchange text messages about the injury.
“We have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the charges that are being presented,” Gascon said, but he refused to elaborate on the evidence.
Minutes after Gascon announced the filing of charges, Mirkarimi – with Lopez alongside – appeared briefly before reporters outside the sheriff’s office at San Francisco City Hall and proclaimed his innocence: “I believe these charges are very unfounded. We will fight these charges.”
The couple, who married after having their son in 2009, have repeatedly denied the allegations and contended the incident was “completely taken out of context” when it was reported to the SFPD by a neighbor.
“This is unbelievable, I don’t have any complaints against my husband,” reiterated Lopez, a former Venezuelan telenovela star, who authorities said had not cooperated with the D.A’s probe into the case.
A CBS 5 poll conducted just a day prior to the D.A.’s announcement found an overwhelming majority of San Francisco residents believed the embattled Mirkarimi should resign or step aside if he faced criminal charges.
But Mirkarimi made it clear Friday that he would not step down from his post, saying, “I have no intention of leaving.”
The D.A. said an arrest warrant was issued for Mirkarimi, who later appeared at the Hall Of Justice to be booked on the charges and have his mugshot and fingerprints taken.
“I will of course be booked,” Mirkarimi told the gaggle of reporters outside his office before turning himself in. “I’m not above the law like anyone else.”
The bail associated with the charges was $35,000, according to the D.A.’s office, which said Mirkarimi would likely be arraigned in court on Tuesday.
Gascon indicated he was also concerned about “the safety of Ms. Lopez and her child” and sought an emergency restraining order that would prohibit Mirkarimi from returning to his Webster Street home or from having contact with his wife and son. It was not immediately clear if a judge had upheld that request.
The D.A. said the seeking of the protective order, which was an unexpected development in the case, was necessary because prosecutors “heard that there have been other incidents” of possible domestic violence involving Mirkarimi and Lopez and police needed time to investigate those claims.
If Mirkarimi is convicted of the current charges against him, he could face a maximum sentence of one year in prison and three years’ probation in addition to being required to undergo counseling. He would further be barred from carrying a gun, even if he avoided jail time and remained sheriff.
KCBS & CBS 5’s Phil Matier Reports:
Also upon a conviction, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee could opt to initiate removal procedures against Mirkarimi for official misconduct.
“Under the (city and county) charter he can move to suspend any public official for official misconduct, the next thing that happens is a trial in front of the Ethics Commission,” former San Francisco prosecutor Jim Hammer told KCBS.
The charter gives the commission 30 days to hold a misconduct trial. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors would then sit as jury with a three-quarters vote needed to remove the sheriff from office.
Lee said Friday evening that he would let the criminal justice system take its’ course before making any such decisions.
Mirkarimi, 50, was elected sheriff in November and took office on Sunday after serving seven years on the Board Of Supervisors.
(Copyright 2012 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.)