Ross Mirkarimi Hearing: Suspended Sheriff Testifies Before Ethics Commission

Categories: Politics
mirkarimi-supporters.jpg
Albert Samaha
Ross Mirkarimi greets supporters minutes before testifying in front of the Ethics Commission.
Sheriff-in-limbo Ross Mirkarimi took the stand Thursday evening in his official misconduct hearing, where he again expressed remorse for his "act of violence" against his wife on New Year's Eve. 

As expected, Mayor Ed Lee's legal team took the opportunity to dig into Mirkarimi's conviction for misdemeanor false imprisonment, which stemmed from a Dec. 31 domestic dispute with his wife, Eliana Lopez.

A few questions into the cross-examination, Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith read a section from the Sheriff Department's code of conduct, which states that employees shall conduct their private and professional lives in a way that avoids "putting the department in disrepute."

"What if a deputy doesn't live up to the department's standards?" queried Keith. "Does that reflect poorly on the department?"

"Yes," Mirkarimi responded.

"What if a lieutenant doesn't live up to the department's standards? Does that reflect poorly on the department?"

"Yes."

"What if a captain doesn't live up to the department's standards? Does that reflect poorly on the department?"

"Yes."

"What if a sheriff doesn't live up to the department's standards? Does that reflect poorly on the department?"

"Yes, it can," said Mirkarimi. "The sheriff is the leader of the department and should lead by example. And that also means if the sheriff can demonstrate redeeming behavior, the employees may have that possibility, too."

The city honed in on the underlying vulnerability of Mirkarimi's position: He has already pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and his probation includes 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling. So there is no tactful way for him to understate or diminish the severity of his conduct, grabbing his wife's arm hard enough to bruise it.

Beyond the nuances of official misconduct, the city attorney's implicit assertion to the Ethics Commission was that San Francisco cannot have a sheriff who has been convicted of domestic violence.

In proceedings prior to Mirkarimi's testimony, his attorneys, David Waggoner and Shepherd Kopp, worked to parse the highly charged term "domestic violence" from the specifics of his conduct on New Year's Eve. As the mayor's legal team sought to bring in an expert witness to explain whether Mirkarimi's actions constitute domestic violence, the suspended sheriff's lawyers argued that the Ethics Commission should contemplate his actions on their own merits, regardless of how one classifies "grabbing one's wife's arm hard enough to bruise it" (an infamous phrase by now).

Mirkarimi, in his testimony, was resolute in his remorse, acknowledging that his conduct reflected adversely on the Sheriff's Department.

"I grabbed my wife's arm and bruised it. That is an act of violence, yes. Something that I regret terribly," he said. "I reacted intensely to a quarrel, and acted wrong in the way that I reacted."

Keith didn't let up the show.

"Is your wife at fault for the act of violence you committed against her?" he asked.

"No."

"Is [neighbor] Ivory Madison at fault for the act of violence you committed against your wife?"

"No."

"Is [neighbor] Callie Williams at fault?"

"No."

"Is the District Attorney at fault?"

"No."

"Are your political enemies responsible for the act of violence you committed against your wife?"

An "objection!" eventually came.

Mirkarimi's primary defense, of course, is that he cannot be charged with official misconduct under the City Charter -- Lee's basis for seeking his removal from office -- because the domestic dispute occurred before he took office on Jan. 8. City Attorney Dennis Herrera has argued that the charge is valid because Mirkarimi had already been elected, in November, and was transitioning into his role as sheriff.

Many Mirkarimi supporters filled seats in City Hall room 263, where the hearing was held. They held up "Stand with Ross" signs and cheered when he passed them in the hallway. During a recess just before he was to testify, Mirkarimi left the hearing to greet more supporters in a downstairs room that was streaming the hearing. He thanked them and asserted that what the city was doing was "beyond the pale."

His testimony will continue Friday morning. Lee is scheduled to testify afterward.

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