Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Sheriff wins job back


Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, with his wife Eliana Lopez and their son Theo, at an event last month (Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
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Embattled San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi won his job back after the Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 Tuesday night, October 9 to reinstate him.

Gay Supervisor David Campos and bisexual Supervisor Christina Olague, along with Supervisors John Avalos and Jane Kim, voted not to sustain Mayor Ed Lee's official misconduct charges against Mirkarimi.

Supervisors David Chiu, Carmen Chu, Malia Cohen, Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell, Eric Mar, and gay Supervisor Scott Wiener voted in favor of ousting Mirkarimi. Lee had needed the support of at least nine supervisors to sustain the charges, which stem from a domestic violence incident, and remove Mirkarimi.

One of the most-watched votes was that of Olague, whom Lee appointed to Mirkarimi's former District 5 seat and is facing a tough election in November. In a statement she said that Mirkarimi made "an egregious mistake," but "I cannot find that his actions were executed through his authority as a sheriff."

Mirkarimi, who didn't respond to requests for comment Wednesday morning, October 10, served for seven years on the board before being elected to the sheriff's post last November. The official misconduct stems from a December 31, 2011 incident in which he bruised the arm of his wife, Eliana Lopez. She has disputed the charges. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and is undergoing counseling and serving three years of probation.

After the plea-bargain, Lee suspended Mirkarimi without pay in March on grounds of official misconduct. Lee transmitted the charges to the city's Ethics Commission and asked that Mirkarimi be removed from his job.

After numerous hearings that stretched through the summer, the commission in August voted 4-1 in favor of recommending to the board that the official misconduct charges should be sustained.

Tuesday's marathon board meeting – held on the eve of Domestic Violence Awareness Day – went late into the night before the supervisors voted.

"When determining whether to sustain the charges as issued by the mayor and recommended by the Ethics Commission, I worked backwards. I thought of it in the context of, in order to remove the sheriff, what would be necessary?" Olague said in her statement.
"And in my opinion, the removal of any elected official from office requires that the mayor supply evidence that demonstrates, with great certainty, that the charter prescribed definition of official misconduct was violated."

Campos said Wednesday morning that he agreed with Ethics Commission Chair Ben Hur, who voted against sustaining the official misconduct charges against Mirkarimi.

"... There has to be a narrow interpretation of the [city] charter, otherwise you're opening the door wide for potential abuse in the future," Campos said.

"I find the conduct of Sheriff Mirkarimi egregious and wrongful, but under the definition of official misconduct, as wrongful as it was, it wasn't official," Campos added.

But Wiener disagreed.

"I think that being convicted of domestic violence disqualifies you from being the chief elected law enforcement officer for San Francisco," Wiener said Wednesday. "I think it's a big deal. We all believe in rehabilitation, and restorative justice and forgiveness, but that doesn't mean that there are no consequences. I just don't think you can effectively serve as sheriff as someone who's been convicted of domestic violence."

The mayor was not pleased with the board's action, saying he "strongly disagreed" with the votes of Avalos, Campos, Kim, and Olague.

"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 and his domestic violence related conviction falls below the ethical conduct we expect of our elected sheriff and constitutes official misconduct."

He added, "The board's decision returns a convicted domestic batterer to lead the sheriff's office, and I am concerned about our city's nationally-recognized domestic violence programs. I will do everything in my power to ensure that abusers continue to be held accountable and that victims and witnesses of domestic violence will not be silenced."

David Waggoner, one of Mirkarimi's attorneys, said Wednesday that he's "very, very glad" about the board's vote, "but at the same time, there's a lot of work to be done" and "fences to be mended."

"Absolutely, we do not want the board's vote to send any message that this city is not serious about domestic violence," Waggoner said.

"But at the same time, the overturning of the will of the people can only be done when it's absolutely clear that there was official misconduct, that a public official abused the power of his or her office, and that was simply not shown here," he added.

It is not clear when Mirkarimi will return to work.

"It's going to take some time for the logistics to be worked out in order for the transition to occur," he said. "We have every confidence" that Vicki Hennessy, who's been serving as interim sheriff, and Mirkarimi "will work together in the most professional manner to ensure a smooth transition."

At the board meeting, several supervisors questioned attorneys representing the mayor and Mirkarimi about whether Mirkarimi had committed official misconduct.

Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser said, "It's not a hard call" to make, and she said that given the offense and Mirkarimi's sentence, as someone who oversees the city's jails, there's a clear relationship to his job.

Waggoner said the sheriff had made "a serious and terrible mistake," but Lee's decision was "without basis in the law.'"

Kaiser said, "It is not just a mistake. ... It's a crime, it's a serious crime."

Many people lined up in the packed board chambers Tuesday to make public comments, including former Mayor Art Agnos, who spoke in support of Mirkarimi.

"As a former mayor, I know extraordinary power. ... I never had this kind of power, and no one should," said Agnos.

Another man said what Mirkarimi and his family have suffered is "enough," and removing him from his job would be "irresponsible."

Several people, including advocates for victims of domestic violence, spoke against reinstating Mirkarimi.

One woman told supervisors "not to be scared" and encouraged them to vote against Mirkarimi. She was loudly booed.

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