By Terry Collins
San Francisco’s embattled sheriff will keep his job, despite his guilty plea to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge stemming from a New Year’s Eve dispute with his actress wife.
Four of the 11-member Board of Supervisors voted late Tuesday against upholding official misconduct charges against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. A minimum of nine votes were needed to oust him.
When the vote was announced, Mirkarimi supporters burst into cheers. The sheriff kissed his wife, Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez, who began crying with joy. The couple hugged their lawyers and were swarmed by well-wishers.
“The system worked in this case,” Mirkarimi said outside the board chambers. “It took us a long way to get here. It has not been easy.”
Mirkarimi was elected last fall and was mired in controversy before his swearing-in ceremony.
In March, Mayor Ed Lee suspended him without pay after the sheriff pleaded guilty to a charge related to the dispute with his wife, who suffered a bruised bicep. Lee replaced Mirkarimi with interim sheriff Vicki Hennessy.
Mirkarimi was sentenced to three years of probation and fined. He is undergoing court-ordered counseling and parenting classes.
Lee then took the unprecedented step of trying to remove Mirkarimi permanently as sheriff. The mayor testified before the city’s Ethics Commission in June that he would find it “extremely difficult” to work with Mirkarimi again.
In August, the commission voted 4-1 that Mirkarimi committed official misconduct, setting the stage for the supervisors’ long-awaited vote.
After almost nine hours of discussion with scores of speakers, the vast majority being Mirkarimi supporters, the supervisors spoke one by one about how they intended to vote and why. Three of the first four supervisors signaled that they would not support the commission’s recommendation.
The third and clinching vote for Mirkarimi was Supervisor John Avalos, who said the domestic violence case was a serious offense but did not rise to official misconduct that would warrant removal of an elected official under the city charter.
“It is a dangerous precedent to set and a slippery slope to be opening this process as a political tool,” Avalos said.
Like Mirkarimi, the four supervisors against his removal were progressives. One of them, Christine Olague, was appointed by the mayor to fill Mirkarimi’s seat on the board.
In a statement, Lee said he disagreed with the vote by the four board members.
“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,” Lee said. “The Board’s decision returns a convicted domestic batterer to lead the Sheriff’s Office.”
Mirkarimi told reporters that he hoped to return to work Wednesday and that his focus will be on mending fences within the city and with anti-domestic violence advocates.
Mirkarimi was elected sheriff in November after serving seven years as one of the city’s more liberal supervisors. Lopez, who starred in TV shows and films in Latin America, seemingly put her budding career on hold and became a mother after marrying Mirkarimi, then a rising political figure in San Francisco. The couple met in 2008 at an environmental conference in Brazil.