SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi will be reinstated after the city’s Board of Supervisors declined Tuesday night to uphold official misconduct charges against him despite a conviction in a domestic violence incident.
The 11-member board required nine votes to oust Mirkarimi from office, but Christina Olague, David Campos, John Avalos and Jane Kim all voted against permanently removing him. Avalos said the ethics case against the sheriff was “very convoluted from a legal point of view.”
Mayor Ed Lee had suspended Mirkarimi in March and lodged the ethics complaint following the sheriff’s guilty plea to misdemeanor false imprisonment.
“I strongly disagree with the action taken by Supervisors Avalos, Campos, Kim and Olague this evening. The Board’s decision returns a convicted domestic batterer to lead the Sheriff’s Office,” Lee said afterward. “I believe, and the Ethics Commission and a majority of the Board of Supervisors agrees with me, that the facts clearly demonstrate that Ross Mirkarimi’s actions fall below the ethical conduct we expect of our elected Sheriff.”
As board members announced their intentions and it became clear that the charges could not be sustained, Mirkarimi smiled and appeared stunned while his Venezuelan actress wife Eliana Lopez embraced her attorney. A throng of Mirkarimi supporters cheered.
“It’s been a long and crazy road, not just for our family but the family of San Francisco,” Mirkarimi said after the vote. “Now is a process of mending fences.”
Board president David Chiu, who voted with the 7-4 majority for removal, acknowledged before the roll call was even taken that there were not the nine required votes to do so. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd summed up the views of the seven when he said the sheriff “violated that trust” given to top law enforcement officials.
Mirkarimi’s guilty plea in court had stemmed from a New Year’s Eve argument in which he grabbed his wife’s arm during an argument, causing a bruise. Prosecutors initially charged him with misdemeanor domestic violence but dropped that and other counts in a plea deal.
The Board’s decision on Mirkarimi’s fate came nearly two months after the San Francisco Ethics Commission recommended upholding the official misconduct charge brought against him by the mayor, setting the stage for the supervisors’ vote on whether to oust him.
Inside an intense and overflowing board chambers filled mostly with Mirkarimi supporters wearing “Stand with Ross” buttons, lawyers for both the mayor’s office and the sheriff stated their respective cases before board members during an hours-long hearing that preceded the vote.
Ethics commission chair Benedict Hur said the commission made its recommendation on the basis of the physical abuse, which it found to fall below the standards of decency expected of an elected official as laid out in the city charter.
Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser, representing the mayor, told the supervisors that Mirkarimi committed an act of domestic violence that should not be ignored: “It was a crime, a very serious crime.”
Kaiser also said the fact that the sheriff oversees domestic violence programs and works with the city’s probation department conflicts with his being sentenced to a year of domestic violence counseling and three years’ probation as part of his plea deal.
Under questioning from some of the supervisors, Kaiser acknowledged that suspending the sheriff was “a discretionary decision” and “at bottom a judgment call,” but that law enforcement officers “are expected to enforce the law, not to break it.”
Mirkarimi’s attorney David Waggoner criticized the mayor and city attorney’s office during his presentation to the board, accusing them of “inflammatory, prejudicial rhetoric” and of giving ambiguous interpretations of official misconduct.
Waggoner said Mirkarimi “took responsibility for the terrible mistake he made,” but “the punishment does not fit the crime.”
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved.)