Eliana Lopez

Threats from mayor and neighbor in evolving Mirkarimi saga


In Old West and pulp fiction stories, it’s usually the sheriff who tells a criminal that he has 24 hours to get out of town or else. But in the latest twist in an increasingly ugly San Francisco drama, that’s what Mayor Ed Lee reportedly told Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi yesterday afternoon, setting up a 5 pm showdown by which Lee told Mirkarimi to resign or face removal from office.

That’s just one of a few rapidly unfolding developments surrounding domestic violence allegations against Mirkarimi, who pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of false imprisonment and is now facing Lee’s threat of bringing official misconduct charges against him.

With the criminal case ending yesterday, Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, and her attorney Paula Canny called a press conference for noon today to finally tell the story of what happened on New Year’s Eve, when the couple fought and Lopez was left with a bruise on her arm, the next day telling neighbor Ivory Madison that Mirkarimi had inflicted it.

But Canny arrived without Lopez, telling the large pack of journalists that they were no longer free to talk because of a cease-and-desist letter and civil lawsuit threatened by Madison and her lawyer husband, Abraham Mertens, who wrote an op-ed in today’s Chronicle calling for Mirkarimi’s removal and accusing Mirkarimi, Lopez, and their lawyers of trying to “discredit, dissuade and harm my wife.”

“Events have risen so that Eliana Lopez is no longer willing to come speak,” Canny said, noting that she has had to get her own lawyer to defend against the accusations and legal threats from Mertens and Madison. 

[added from here at 3:30 pm] Canny repeated a previous claim that Lopez knew Madison had attended law school and was seeking legal help from her, making the videotape confidential under attorney-client privilege, a claim Mirkarimi’s judge rejected. “My client sought legal advice from someone she thought reasonably to be an attorney,” Canny said today, noting that only Lopez can lift the veil of confidentiality in such cases.  

Although Lopez didn’t cooperate with the prosecution of her husband, maintaining that she was not a victim of domestic violence, Canny reiterated that Lopez was willing to testify in court as to what really happened that night but that she wanted immunity from prosecution first. “She has always said she would testify under immunity, but the District Attorney’s Office refused to offer it,” Canny said today. 

Given that Mirkarimi faced a child endangerment charge because their two-year-old son, Theo, was present during the altercation, it’s conceivable that Lopez could also be charged with a crime. Sources close to Mirkarimi and Lopez told the Guardian that Lopez was prepared to say today that Mirkarimi was restraining rather than attacking her, something she was willing to discuss with reporters before these latest legal threats.

Canny noted that the media circus and threats made on the couple’s livelihood have been the most damaging part of a saga that she called “an amazing, horrible experience” and  “oppressive and unfair,” noting the irony of a prosecution that purported to be about helping victims of domestic violence.

“Has any of this helped Eliana Lopez? Has any of this helped Theo?” Canny said. “This is not about helping her.”

She said that neither Lee nor anyone from the Mayor’s Office have tried to contact Lopez. “If the mayor wants to call me, I’d say he’s not trying to make the world a better place,” Canny said.

Canny also had this message for Lee: “To the mayor, please respect the electoral process,” adding that Lopez also strongly wants Mirkarimi to remain in office and that “Eliana Lopez is not afraid of Ross. Eliana Lopez loves Ross…If people care about them at all, let Ross do his job.”

Canny also took issue with La Casa de las Madres and other domestic violence advocates that have pressured Lee to oust Mirkarimi and sought to capitalize on the case, even circulating Lopez’s name and image. “That’s not how crime victims are to be taken care of,” Canny said. 

Many political and legal observers say they’re surprised by Lee’s apparent decision to suspend Mirkarimi and bring official misconduct charges, saying it will be a complicated, distracting, and divisive process that is unlikely to result in Mirkarimi’s removal. They say the charges so clearly don’t rise to the level of official misconduct that even the Ethics Commission, where the hearing is held, may reject them. If Ethics recommends Mirkarimi’s removal, it was take nine of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors to remove him.

Then again, these observers speculate that Lee may simply want to use the hearings to air the evidence and discredit Mirkarimi so that he’d be easy pickings for a recall campaign that could be launched this summer — in the process, potentially gaining a campaign issue to use against progressive supervisors facing reelection this fall. The Chronicle reported yesterday that the case has generated a bonanza of donations to La Casa de las Madres, which is planning to do Spanish-language billboards in the Mission District, where Sup. David Campos is now running for reelection.

Lee has not offered many substantial comments on why he may believe official misconduct charges are warranted, but he’s expected to do so as soon as this afternoon when he announces his decision on the Mirkarimi matter.




Video admitted in Mirkarimi trial


A videotape and related statements that the prosecution said was critical to the domestic violence case against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi will be admitted at a trial set to begin Feb. 28, Judge Garrett Wong has ruled.

The ruling allows prosecutors to show the roughly 50-second video in which Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, tearfully recounts the incident of New Years’s Eve, 2011 and shows a bruise on her arm.

“Without this evidence we have no legal recourse to completely move forward with this case,” prosecutor Elizabeth Aguilar-Tarchi told the judge, reflecting what observers have been saying for weeks: The case against the sheriff could hinge on how the trial judge interprets a complex part of the state’s Evidence Code.

At issue is whether a statement that would normally be excluded as hearsay can be allowed in court as a “spontaneous or excited utterance” — a statement made after a crime when a victim or witness hasn’t had time to reflect on the events or plan to fabricate or alter the story of what happened.

In this case, the video was made a day after the alleged violence, and Mirkarimi’s lawyer, Lidia Stiglich, argued that it was carefully scripted and staged for reasons that had little to do with Mirkarimi’s specific behavior the day before.

In fact, she said, Lopez and Ivory Madison, a neighbor who made the video, discussed how the information would only be used if Mirkarimi and Lopez divorced or had a custody fight over the couple’s two-year-old son, Theo.

Lopez was hardly still excited or emotional over the incident, Stiglich said: “There is evidence that Ms. Lopez went shopping, made phone calls, including two calls to Ms. Madison, and texted [Madison’s] husband.”

The video, Stiglich argued, “was the antithesis of a spontaneous statement” — it was made after Lopez had a day to calm down and was made specifically for evidence in a child-custody case, the attorney noted.

But Aguliar-Tarchi insisted that Lopez was sufficiently emotional that the time frame wasn’t the central issue — and Judge Wong agreed. “Time is a factor to consider, but not determinative,” he said from the bench. “What is crucial is the mental state of the speaker.”

The ruling complicates Mirkarimi’s defense: Photos released by the District Attorney’s Office from the video show a clearly upset Lopez showing the camera a bruise on her upper arm and saying that this wasn’t the first such incident.

If Wong hadn’t accepted the video, it’s likely that the District Attorney’s Office would have to drop the charges, since Lopez has refused to testify and the rest of the case is so thin and circumstantial that it would be hard to present it to a jury. “This is the focal point and crux of our case,” Aguilar-Tarchi said.

Now Mirkarimi will have to come up with a more compelling narrative as to why the story that his wife described to a camera wasn’t an accurate reflection of the facts. 

The ruling could certainly be grounds for appeal — based on the courtroom discussion, the video falls very close to the line in what can and can’t be admitted, and while the judge has broad discretion on these issues, criminal defendants have challenged such rulings in higher courts numerous times. But the jury — and the news media, and thus the public — will now be allowed to see what is by any definition a very damaging video that will hurt Mirkarimi’s political career, whatever the outcome of the trial.



Motion could cripple case against Mirkarimi if granted


(UPDATE 2/27: The judge today denied the defense motion to suppress this video. More details here.) The domestic violence case against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi could be dealt a crippling blow if the judge approves yesterday’s defense motion to bar videotaped testimony that his wife, Eliana Lopez, gave to their neighbor, Ivory Madison. But even if Mirkarimi beats the criminal rap, his political future could still depend on finally offering a detailed explanation of exactly what happened during that New Year’s Eve incident.

Yesterday’s motions were the subject of a cover story in today’s San Francisco Examiner, but they were strangely buried on page C2 in the San Francisco Chronicle, which also chose not to provide details of the motion, which makes a fairly compelling case for barring the videotape that is the only evidence that Lopez may have had a bruise on her arm, allegedly inflicted by Mirkarimi.

The motion argues that the videotape is inadmissible hearsay evidence that doesn’t meet the legal standard of an immediate reaction to a crime. Not only was it recorded the next day, but both Lopez and Madison say on the tape that it was intended to be used only if Lopez left Mirkarimi and sought sole custody of their two-year-old son, Theo.

“The videotape itself was the product of a reflective and deliberate decision to create evidence for purposes of a custody proceeding,” Mirkarimi attorney Lidia Stiglich argued in her motion, citing caselaw that makes such considered actions inadmissible. As the Examiner noted, the motion suggested Lopez might have ulterior motives in such an instance, making it possible that she misrepresented to Madison what had happened. Lopez denies that Mirkarimi abused her and is not cooperating with the prosecution.

Madison is quoted in the motion as saying the video was being made in case there was ever a child custody case and that “I really don’t know” what happened that night, but she believed it wasn’t an isolated incident, allegedly telling police, “she definitely didn’t describe it as ‘he grabbed my arm one time and left this mark.’”

Stiglich told the Guardian that barring the videotape from admission would be huge: “It’s a significant piece of evidence.” Some legal observers have even said the entire case against Mirkarimi could crumble if that evidence is barred, and that the ruling on its admissibility could really go either way depending on which judge gets assigned to the case tomorrow.

“We are not suprised nor concerned with the motion filed by Mr. Mirkarimi’s attorney and we will continue to handle legal issues in the courtroom and not in the media,” District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Omid Talai told us. He wouldn’t characterize how important that evidence is to the case, but he did say, “Every case is filed based on the totality of evidence.”

Yet Stiglich said much of the case rests of that videotaped evidence, which she believes presents a distorted view of what happened. “These statements are essential to their case, and there are issues with that type of testimony,” Stiglich told us.

Yet if Mirkarimi beats the criminal rap by suppressing that evidence, it’s unlikely to help him in the court of public opinion. Neither Mirkarimi nor Lopez have provided a full explanation or alternative narrative of what happened that night, how the alleged injury occurred, or other crucial details, and Stiglich said she doesn’t think now is the time for that kind of tell-all.

“I don’t think anyone should be making factual statements outside the courtroom at this point,” Stigich told us, confirming that she has advised against Mirkarimi making those kind of public statements, although she said he has been anxious to do so.

Motions in the case could be heard as soon as tomorrow, but Stiglich said she doesn’t expect opening statements in the case to take place under the week after next. She estimates witness testimony in the case will take about a week.

Then, after it’s all over and the jury renders a verdict, we’ll all see how much Mirkarimi’s team discloses about what actually happened that night and with earlier instances where Mirkarimi allegedly got physical with Lopez and a previous girlfriend, Christina Flores, who prosecutors also hope to put on the witness stand.

And if there are still questions to be answered, then we can all push Mirkarimi for a fuller accounting, render our own judgments, and determine where we think the truth lies and what that says about the public officials involved in this case.

More on the Mirkarimi case


I wrote up the Jan. 19 hearing on the domestic violence charges against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, but a few more points are worth thinking about as the embattled sheriff prepares for another court hearing Jan. 23.

For one, the stay-away order that Judge Susan Breall issued doesn’t allow Mirkarimi to have any contact with his two-year-old son for the next 45 days. That seems not only harsh but bad for the kid, who doesn’t understand why he can’t see his daddy and is, not surpisingly, confused and upset. There are no winners in this case (except the folks who would just as soon see Mirkarimi gone and replaced with a more traditional law-enforcement sheriff), but the biggest loser, the one I feel worst about, is the kid. If the judge was really worried about Mirkarimi being a danger to his son (which, frankly, seems like a huge stretch), then she could have authorized supervised visitation. That’s not at all unusual in these kinds of cases, and would at least give the child a chance to have contact and a relationship with his father during the period when all of this is being sorted out in adult court.

There’s not a lot of talk about the inherent conflicts of interest in this case, issues that come about from a sheriff who was once an investigator in the District Attorney’s Office facing criminal charges filed by that same office, which is now run by a former police chief who the sheriff clashed with repeatedly when he was a supervisor. I don’t know the law on this or how it could possibly play out, but there’s an interesting article about it all here.

It’s odd that the conflict piece ran in a publication that makes its living bashing local progressives, but everything about the media in this case is odd (except that fact that it’s become an international zoo). The one writer who has talked seriously about Mirkarimi’s right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty — and the only major voice in the media urging him not to step down — is the Chron’s conservative columnist Debra Saunders

Another interesting media tidbit: I don’t know Mirkarimi will enough to have any insight into his behavior in romantic relationships, but one person who really does — his longtime former girlfriend, journalist Evelyn Nieves — has been quoted only once in the bottom of a New York Times/Bay Citizen story, to wit:

“I was shocked when I read about it,” Evelyn Nieves, a journalist and a past partner of Mr. Mirkarimi’s, said in an e-mail. “Ross and I were together for the better part of a decade — eight years or so — and never once did he even come close to being physical during an argument.”

“It’s just not his way,” Ms. Nieves added. “He was way more prone to proposing that disagreements be talked out. He could talk and talk.”

Again: Doesn’t mean he’s not guilty. Doesn’t mean he hasn’t changed. Just interesting that only one publication has even tried to contact and get a quote from Nieves.

I’m not a lawyer, of course, but it seems to me that the defining moment in this case will not be the trial but the pre-trial hearing in which Mirkarimi’s lawyer tries to get a judge to rule that the videotape of Eliana Lopez talking about her injury and her fear of her husband can’t be used in court. Bob Egelko has an excellent piece here; he points out that if the video isn’t admissible as evidence, the case will collapse. If a judge rules (and the legal arguments seem to support it) that the prosecution can’t introduce the video or show it to the jury, then I suspect the district attorney will have to drop the charges; if Lopez refuses to testify against her husband, there’s nothing else to go on.

But this is a domestic violence case, and judges (no surprise) are political, and how many members of the local bench really want to be the one who ended such a high-profile case (and in effect, let the suspect walk) on what the media will call “a technicality?”






Plenty of drama at the Mirkarimi hearing


I’m glad I got to the courtroom early; by the time Judge Susan Breall called the case of People v. Ross Mirkarimi, there wasn’t a single seat available, and Her Honor wasn’t allowing standing room.

What followed was a quick “not guilty” plea to three misdemeanor charges – and then a session that lasted more than two hours, with a long interruption, as the prosecution and defense argued over whether Mirkarimi was such a threat to his wife and two-year-old son that he should be forced to stay away from them and avoid any form of contact until after what is expected to be an early March trial.

In the process, Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, made a passionate plea against the restraining order and Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Aguilar-Tarchi introduced new evidence to support her claims that the newly elected Sheriff is not only guilty of domestic violence but too dangerous to allow into his own home.

In the end, Breall – who once worked as a prosecutor in domestic violence cases – issued the order forbidding the sheriff from any contact with his wife and child, and told Mirkarimi and his attorney, Robert Waggener, to return to court Jan. 23 to set a trial date.

Breall angered Lopez – and some courtroom observers – by saying she was concerned that the 36-year-old Venezuelan soap opera star was new to the country and lacked fluency in English and a family support system. Waggener noted that the length of time Lopez had lived in the United States and her language skills weren’t part of the evidence in the case and had nothing to do with the need for a protective order. He later told me that it was unusual for a judge to mention or consider that sort of information in a restraining order.

In fact, Breall noted that she had learned about Lopez’ background from reading the newspapers, leading Waggener to insist that the judge stick to the facts before her and not rely on news accounts that the attorney said were inaccurate.

At times, the proceedings turned bizarre: After Lopez had been identified by her full name and discussed at some length, her attorney noted that the last name and address of a domestic violence victim should not be in the public record. Breall agreed, and from then on referred to her only as “Eliana L.”

A little late for that, of course: The local news media have put her picture and full name on the front pages and the airwaves repeatedly in the past week.

Early in the proceedings, Breall asked if Lopez had seen a victim advocate in the District Attorney’s Office, noting that such a visit was part of standard procedure in these kinds of cases. Shortly afterward, Lopez left the courtroom; we later learned she had walked down the hall to the D.A.’s Office and met with the advocate.

Waggener asked repeatedly during the afternoon that statements from Lopez be taken in a closed courtroom, citing her privacy rights. Breall declined, and refused to put any documents under court seal.

After delaying the case for roughly an hour while Lopez had her meeting and Waggener read over the documents that had already been published in local newspapers but had only that day been provided to him, the judge came back and heard arguments on the stay-away order – and we learned more about the evidence that the D.A. will be presenting in the case.

Waggener noted that after reading the documents he had received, he saw nothing that would justify barring Mirkarimi from seeing his family. Aguilar-Tarchi started to discuss what the now-famous videotape that neighbor Ivory Madison made of Lopez showing a bruise and discussing a confrontation with her husband, but Lopez’s lawyer interrupted with an interesting new claim: She said that when Lopez had met with Madison, who is a lawyer, she believed that everything she said would be protected by attorney-client privilege and thus shouldn’t be admitted as evidence.

That will no doubt come up later – but for now, Breall wasn’t interested.

Then Lopez took the stand.

Speaking in English – relatively fluent English – she first chided the judge for the comments about her language skills and her residency in the U.S. “This idea that I’m a poor little immigrant is insulting,” she said. “It’s a little racist.”

She said that, rather than being adrift without a support system, she was someone who had been living on her own for 16 years, had her own career and her own apartment in Venezuela (one larger and nicer than her home in San Francisco). She said she’s spent time in Los Angeles and New York and had traveled in Mexico, London, Tibet, Europe and all over Latin America.

“I don’t need the support of my (extended) family,” she said. “I support my family.”

She also said that the press coverage, while unfair, was nothing she couldn’t handle: “I’ve been working in TV for 15 years,” she noted. “Check out the press in Venezuela. This is nothing.”

Then she got into her point: She saw no need for a protective order, didn’t fear her husband and found the whole idea abhorrent. “The violence against me is that I don’t have my family together,” she said. “This country is trying to pull my family apart, and that is the real violence.”

Aguilar-Tarchi wasn’t done, though. After Lopez finished, she repeated some of the allegations in the video, but then described text messages that Lopez had allegedly sent to Madison. “She told a neighbor that she was afraid,” the prosecutor said. “She asked if she could change the locks on the door. She asked if she would have to go to the police or if the police would come to her.”
The text messages also stated, Aguilar-Tarchi said, that Mirkarimi was scared and didn’t want the story to come out and that he had taken Lopez and their son, Theo, on a vacation to Monterey in an effort to prove that everything was fine. “My little Theo is so confused,” one of the messages allegedly said.

Waggener argued that the case wasn’t yet on trial and that much of the evidence was hearsay. And, he said, “in terms of what this court sees all the time, broken bones etc., this is on the low end.” He explained that the couple had been together from the day of the incident – New Year’s Eve – until the day the original protective order was issued, “with no complaints or evidence of violence.” He called the description of the videotape (which hasn’t been shown in court) “highly distorted.”

Breall said some nice (if somewhat condescending) things about Lopez, who she called “charming,” but wasn’t swayed. “I am going to treat this case like any other case,” she said, issuing the order that would keep Mirkarimi away from his wife and child until the end of the trial. Waggener later said he would come back to Breall to seek a modification in that order next week. Breall said the trial would start no later than March 5.

(In an interesting side note, the prosecution demanded that Mirkarimi give up the three guns in his possession. I never knew he kept guns in his house. At any rate, they’ve already been turned over to the authorities.)

I walked out thinking: This is just awful. There’s really nothing positive you can say about it.

I’ve known Ross Mirkarimi for years; I’ve never seen any hint of violence in his behavior. Of course, I’m not that close to him, and I don’t know anything about his marriage. Still, somebody who has been part of the progressive community for a long time has been accused of something really terrible, and it has a lot of us shaking our heads and, frankly, wondering what to think. You want to stand by a friend who’s in trouble (and lord knows, I have plenty of friends who’ve been arrested and charged with all manner of crimes, and some of them were guilty as sin, and they’re still my friends).

But I’ve also helped a close friend through episodes of domestic violence, and I can tell you it isn’t a minor deal, or a private family affair (as Mirkarimi foolishly and inappropriately stated). It’s a serious crime, and for many years, the cops and the courts didn’t treat it that way. And because it used to be really hard for women to get stay-away orders (and in some areas, it still is), women have been badly hurt and sometimes killed.

It’s only because progressive political leaders (the same progressives my blog trolls love trash at the slightest provocation) demanded changes in the law that the rules now allow for prosecution even if the alleged victim doesn’t cooperate. It’s only because of progressive reforms that a case like this is even in court.

And I agree with those reforms. As I’ve said before, there’s no excuse for intentionally injuring anyone – and there’s less than no excuse for injuring your spouse. If that’s what Mirkarimi did, he should be held accountable. It doesn’t matter what side of the political divide he’s on. If he’s guilty of domestic violence, I’m not going to make excuses for him.

More than a misdemeanor charge is on the line. All Mirkarimi has done professionally is progressive politics and law-enforcement, and by most accounts, neither one has much room for someone who has a DV rap. (Although I have to say – there are an awful lot of cops who have DV allegations against them and are still on duty.)

If Mirkarimi weren’t the elected sheriff, this case might well have been handled a lot differently. He could have accepted a misdemeanor plea, taken DV courses, gone into therapy, tried to put his marriage back together. That’s pretty standard in first-offense cases. But to do that would be to admit something he can’t easily admit to and remain in office.

So Mirkarimi knows his only real chance is to win a “not guilty” verdict and then try to rebuild his reputation. Given the stakes, I can’t imagine that he would so much as raise his voice half an octave against Lopez over the next few weeks; one more allegation it would be the end of everything. But Breall must be worried (as any modern judge would be in any prominent DV case) that if she refused to issue the restraining order and something bad did happen, her ass would be very much on the line. So she did the obvious thing.

And the media circus continues.

The only possible bright side (and I always look for a bright side) is that a lot of people who weren’t talking about domestic violence are now discussing it, on the front pages. They’re talking about how a lot of women are trapped by batterers, how they’re afraid to testify and can’t (or don’t want to) leave, how all of us, particularly the police and the courts, are responsible for protecting victims who can’t find a way to escape. And that’s a whole lot of women.

All of that said, we have to remember that Mirkarimi is still innocent until proven guilty. The mayor has no business removing him from office at this point; he hasn’t been convicted of anything. It’s only a few weeks until his trial (Mirkarimi has made it clear he wants this over as quickly as possible, so by law he has to face a jury within 45 days). After that, if he’s guilty, the mayor and the supervisors can worry about whether to vacate the Sheriff’s Office – unless Mirkarimi makes that decision himself.

Sheriff Mirkarimi charged with domestic violence


Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has been charged with three misdemeanors in connection with an alleged domestic violence incident against his wife, Eliana Lopez, on New Year’s Eve, District Attorney George Gascón announced this afternoon. Gascón said a restraining order has been issued that bars Mirkarimi from contacting his wife and child and that bail has been set at $35,000, although he was unaware whether Mirkarimi had been booked yet.

Mirkarimi is being charged with one misdemeanor each of domestic violence battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness from testifying. Gascón said their young son, Theo, was present during the incident. Lopez has refused to speak with investigators, but she has publicly denied that her husband has ever abused her.

Mirkarimi has maintained his innocence, as he did again with Lopez by his side during a City Hall press conference held simultaneously with Gascón’s press conference at the Hall of Justice. “We believe that these charges are very unfounded and we will fight those charges. I’m confident in the end that we will succeed,” Mirkarimi said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. It was unclear whether the appearance with Lopez violated the restraining order.

Gascón confirmed press reports that Lopez had communicated via text message about the incident with the neighbor who ultimately contacted police – although he refused to disclose or characterize the contents of the communications – and that there was a photo taken of an injury to Lopez’s arm. He also said there are indications that this was not an isolated incident and the investigation is continuing. “We have heard there have been other instances,” Gascón said.

The fact that the charges were misdemeanors wouldn’t require Mirkarimi’s removal from the office he assumed just last weekend if he’s convicted, but he has already been required to relinquish any weapons, including his service revolver. He faces a year in jail and three years probation on the charges.

“While we do not relish having to bring charges against a San Francisco elected official, I have taken an oath to uphold the laws of the state of California and as the chief law enforcement officer for the city and county of San Francisco it is my solemn duty to bring criminal charges when the evidence supports such action. No one is above the law,” Gascón said. “Whether this was the elected Sheriff or any other San Francisco resident, this type of behavior is inexcusable, criminal, and will be prosecuted.”

Gascón also said that while Lopez has refused to cooperate, he believes there is ample evidence to bring charges. “A case is always stronger if the victim is willing to testify. However, it is very common for victims to be uncooperative in domestic violence cases,” Gascón said, noting that his office filed 771 domestic violence cases last year. He also said, “Regardless of whether the victim supports a prosecution, it is the state’s and my office’s obligation to ensure the safety of the victim.”

Mirkarimi takes the oath


The room was packed for the inauguration of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, and for the most part, the crowd wasn’t talking about what Mirkarimi referred to as the “cloud” hanging over the event. He mentioned the investigation into possible domestic violence only that once, then joked that he’d managed to get a lot of press to his event.

There was music, dancing, former Mayor Art Agnos administering the oath of office, a long, long Mirkarimi speech on criminal justice policy (please, Ross, 15 minutes would have been plenty). Most of Mirkarimi’s progressive colleagues (including supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar, state Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano) were on hand. And the press conference afterward was surprisingly mild.

Mirkarimi was asked what happened the night in question, and he declined to talk about it, saying the criminal justice system would work its way through the process. Then his wife, Eliana Lopez, interrupted, took the mike, and announced that this was a “family matter” and she would have no more to say – except that she has no complaints about her husband.

That was it. No shouted questions as the sheriff walked away, no 1000-watt camera flashes in his eyes, nothing to indicate that this is the gigantic scandal that it’s become in the daily papers.

But Mirkarimi did make one statement that’s worth mentioning: He said that there were forces in the department (I think he meant the Police Department) that didn’t want to see him as sheriff. That’s absolutely true.

Let me make a few points here.

First, for the record: There’s no excuse for assaulting anyone, and there’s less excuse for assaulting your wife. Domestic violence is a serious, under-reported problem, something all too often dismissed by the authorities – with catastrophic results. Women die because batterers are not held to account. I have close friends who have been in abusive relationships, and it’s not pretty and it’s not a joke and it’s not something to take lightly.

That said: I don’t know what happened that night at Mirkarimi’s house. But I do know that the minute the cops were brought in, it became political.

See, the cops, for the most part, are not Mirkarimi fans. He beat their guy, former Police Officers Association president Chris Cunnie, in the race for sheriff. He’s demanded changes in the department (including foot patrols, which a lot of old-timers don’t like). He also beat a sheriff’s captain. He’s a civilian who is going to run a law-enforcement agency as a civilian, which means he’s not part of the Fraternity.

The news reports about the incident were clearly leaked by the SFPD. So, I’m sure, was the search warrant (that’s a public document, but I honestly don’t think the Examiner tracked it down, I think it was delivered to the paper by a source in the department). Nothing wrong with that – cops (and politicians) tip reporters to stories all the time. I’m not blaming the Chron or the Ex for doing the story – it’s news, you have to report it.

And, of course, if the cops had ignored the case or downplayed it, they would have been criticized for covering up an incident involving the new sheriff.

Again: I’m not excusing Mirkarimi’s behavior (alleged behavior — we don’t know what actually happened). But the way the story and the details were leaked reflects the political reality that the cops don’t love the new sheriff, and a lot of them would be thrilled to take him down. That’s just political reality.

Which means Mirkarimi needs to be very, very careful – there are people watching every single move he makes, every day. And they’re not interested in policy debates.

PS: The D.A. and the cops managed to finish this particular investigation in record time. I wonder what’s happened to the investigation into possible vote fraud in the Ed Lee campaign. Months have passed. Nobody is facing any charges. There are no police leaks about anyone involved. Funny, that.

Ross for boss (of the sheriff’s department)


City Hall’s steps were awash in multi-lingual black and yellow “Ross Mirkarimi for Sherrif” signs at noon today, as Mirkarimi supporters watched Sheriff Mike Hennessey, who is stepping down after 31 years of service and eight elections, endorse Sup. Mirkarimi as the next sheriff.  “New Leadership for a Safe San Francisco” was printed on the English version of the signs that Mirkarimi’s supporters carried. They included former Mayor Art Agnos, Sups. David Campos and Eric Mar, Tim Paulson of the Labor Council, Debra Walker, Linda Richardson, Sharen Hewitt, Terry Anders, and Mirkarimi’s partner Eliana Lopez and their almost two-year old son Theo. And everyone had plenty of great things to say about outgoing sheriff Hennessey and sheriff candidate Mirkarimi. And Hennessey even pinned a shiny toy sheriff’s badge onto the T-shirt of Mirkarimi’s son Theo, making him the happiest kid in town. At least for the day.

Campos kicked off the event by honoring Hennessey as the “most progressive and most effective sheriff in the country.”
“Mike Hennessey is also my neighbor in District 9. I see him taking out the trash so I know he’s a good neighbor,” Campos joked, as he listed the many achievements in Hennessey’s long career as an elected official in San Francisco. These achievements included Hennessey’s pioneering innovations in criminal justice and culminated in his decision to blow the whistle in 2010 on the federal government’s plan to activate its controversial Secure Communities program in San Francisco—without telling the public.
“He’s not afraid to stand up for what’s right,” Campos said.

‘This is the time for me to move on,” Hennessey announced, as he laid out his reasons for endorsing Mirkarimi as Sheriff, over other candidates in the field.
Hennessey described the Sheriff’s Department as a “large enterprise” that has over 1,000 employees, a $150 million budget and whose jail houses an average population of 2,000 folks in custody, on a daily basis.
“It’s not something that can be handled lightly,” Hennessey said. “That’s why I’m here to endorse Ross Mirkarimi as the next sheriff.”

Hennessey listed the many endeavors that he and Mirkarimi have worked closely on, including a number of criminal justice issues, and he cited Mirkarimi’s extensive law enforcement background, his significant legislative accomplishments in the areas of criminal justice and public safety, and his ability to find innovative solutions and overcome obstacles to progress, as reasons to support Mirkarimi.

Hennessey observed that criminal justice is “one of the thornier issues” that members of the Board of Supervisors are often asked to get involved in, but often duck.”But Ross has not shied away from working on them,” Hennessey said, citing Mirkarimi’s involvement in shaping the “No Violence Alliance Project” and his leadership in creating the Safe Communities Re-entry Council.

Hennessey also noted that in face of AB 109, the Governor’s plan to transfer state inmates to county jails, “it’s vitally important to have person in charge of sheriff’s office that understands these alliances and can make them work more effectively.”

Hennessey concluded by observing that the Sherrif’s Department has to deal with a lot of bureaucracy, so it’s important to understand how the Board, the budget process and other city departments, including the District Attorney’s office and the police, work.
‘And that’s why I’m endorsing Ross as Sheriff,” Hennessey said

Then it was the turn of Mirkarimi, who graduated from the San Francisco Police Academy, did Naval Reserve training and worked for more than 8 years as an investigator for the District Attorney’s office, to speak.

“I have never been at a loss for words,” Mirkarimi acknowledged, as he launched into a speech that began by thanking everyone for showing up at short notice “for one of the most important occasions of my political career.”

Mirkarimi did a great job of giving Hennessey the praise he deserves.
“He is a living legend,” Mirkarimi said. “It’s completely impossible to fill his shoes.”
Citing Hennessey’s integrity and his ability to innovate, Mirkarimi warned that, “Maybe it’s come to the point where we have taken him for granted. He’s the longest serving elected official in the history of San Francisco, and he’s probably the most understated.”

“And the most important endorsement in this race is that of Mike Hennessey,” Mirkarimi added, as he gave Hennessey his commitment “to build upon your legacy as effectively as possible.”

Mirkarimi cited some of the most immediate and serious challenges that face the next sheriff. These include AB 109, which Gov. Jerry Brown just signed, which. Mirkarimi said, threatens to increase the reentry prisoner level by 30 percent in California. “It will take creative ingenuity and resources to make sure we are effective in taking care of this population,” he said.

Mirkarimi also touched on the rising number of veterans that are ending up in the prison system, talked more about the No Violence Alliance Project, and suggested that certified deputy sheriffs could help serve warrants, transfer prisoners, and patrol Muni, “when the police department finds itself understaffed” so as to ensure that San Francisco is safe.

“For every four people arrested and jailed in San Francisco, three out of four are repeat offenders in a three-year period,” Mirkarimi warned, by way of explaining why he wants to advance a more collaborative spirit between SPPD and the Sheriff’s department.

Mirkarimi also noted that one out of every 15 African American males are in jail, at any time in the year, compared to I out of 300 males who are not black or brown. “So, we must step up our game in dealing with poverty,” he said, as he recommended increased access to job training and good jobs, “so work doesn’t become a seasonal hope but a permanent job.” He also made the connections between a lack of good housing, childcare, and schools and a rise in poverty, crime and recidivism.

Mirkarimi concluded by crediting Hennessey for “walking that fine pirouette” between upholding the principles of public safety and understanding the power of redemption at the same time.

I asked Sheriff Mike Hennessey what he considers to be the biggest challenges of running for sheriff/
“Letting people know what you are going to do, and what your issues are,” Hennessey said, noting that San Francisco has an intelligent, issues-driven electorate.

And Mirkarimi’s supporters weren’t shy about letting folks know the issues that the current D5 Supervisor has helped them with, over the years.

“Ross, as a supervisor and me, as someone who comes from a community of color, we know the habits that ex-offenders can bring with them, if there are no safety nets,” said Terry Anders who sits with Mirkarimi on the Safe Communities Reentry Council. “And I believe in what Ross stands for and the integrity of his person. He’s one of the first people to show up when there are crimes and victims, and he attends basketball games and boxing matches.”

Paulette Brown, whose son Aubrey Abraska Jr, was murdered in August 2006, but whose killers have still not been brought to justice.
“We shouldn’t have to run and leave our families, we should be protected,” Brown said. “Ross is my district supervisor and if he can get in, and do something about crime and solve unsolved homicides, then I’m for him. Maybe if he gets in, he’ll have more pull to do something about these unresolved cases.”

And then it was back to work, which for Mirkarimi now includes the somewhat daunting task of trying to raise money in an election year that also includes a mayor’s race, but does not include the help of public financing, at least not for the sherrif’s race….