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San Francisco County sheriff charged with domestic violence

Five days after he was sworn in as sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi is also charged with child endangerment and dissuading a witness, the result of a fight with his wife, a former Venezuelan telenovela star.

January 14, 2012|By Maria L. LaGanga, Los Angeles Times
  • San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and his wife, Eliana Lopez, leave City Hall in San Francisco. The newly sworn-in sheriff has been charged with misdemeanor domestic violence after a New Year's Eve fight with Lopez.
San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and his wife, Eliana Lopez,… (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press )

Reporting from San Francisco -- Five days after he was sworn in as San Francisco County sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi was charged Friday afternoon with misdemeanor domestic violence, child endangerment and dissuading a witness, the result of a New Year's Eve fight with his wife, a former Venezuelan telenovela star.

In announcing the charges against Mirkarimi, 50 — a former county supervisor who is now one of the highest-ranking law enforcement officers in San Francisco — Dist. Atty. George Gascon said police are investigating the possibility that Mirkarimi may have been involved in earlier incidents of spousal abuse.

Gascon also said that a judge was signing an emergency protective order that would bar Mirkarimi from his home and prohibit any contact between him and his wife, Eliana Lopez, and their toddler son, Theo.

The order also would require Mirkarimi to give up all his firearms within 24 hours. Gascon said that he is "not aware of any" other sheriff in California who cannot carry a gun.

"While this case involves a high-profile elected official, we are treating this case as we would any of the hundreds of domestic violence cases we review and charge each year," Gascon said. "While I do not relish having to bring charges against a San Francisco elected official … it is my solemn duty to bring criminal charges when the evidence supports such action."

About the same time Gascon announced the charges at a packed news conference, Mirkarimi and Lopez held their own briefing at his City Hall office, where he vowed to fight the charges.

"We must allow the system and its investigation to proceed accordingly," Mirkarimi said. "We believe that these charges are very unfounded."

Appearing slightly stunned, Mirkarimi said he was "confident that in the end we will succeed in showing the missteps" of the investigation. Asked if he would step aside while the case proceeds, he said he has "no intention of leaving.… We'll prove that we are right."

Lopez has hired an attorney, is not cooperating with the investigation and has not spoken with the district attorney's staff. She was more strident Friday than her husband, repeatedly calling the charges "unbelievable."

"As I've said before, I don't have any complaint against my husband," Lopez said. "We are together and we are fine. We are going to fight this. This is my family, my husband and my son.… This is completely wrong."

The incident came to light after Lopez confided to a neighbor about a New Year's Eve fight with Mirkarimi. The neighbor, Ivory Madison, photographed and videotaped a bruise on Lopez's arm, texted with Lopez about the incident and later called police.

Madison, who co-hosted an October fundraiser to benefit Mirkarimi's run for sheriff, declined to turn over the messages and photos to authorities, saying Lopez had asked her not to. But investigators seized the materials after serving a search warrant.

Gascon would not discuss specifics of the incident, except to say that "we feel very comfortable based on the evidence presented that we have sufficient evidence" to obtain a conviction.

He acknowledged that "a case is always stronger if the victim is willing to testify," but he said that it is "very common for victims to be uncooperative in domestic violence cases," either because they fear retaliation or the consequences to the family.

Two big questions are what effect the incident would have on Mirkarimi's ability to function as sheriff and what damage it would do to his political career as one of the clearest progressive voices in this famously liberal city.

When he was sworn in Sunday, Mirkarimi caused widespread anger by appearing to take the investigation lightly and dismissing the allegations of spousal abuse as "a private matter, a family matter."

With Lopez and Theo by his side, he declared that he was "sorry that a cloud hangs over what should be a very special day for Eliana, me and my entire family and all of you who worked so hard. They and you deserve better. But you know what? Clouds break, and the possibilities shine through."

Under city law, Mayor Ed Lee can charge Mirkarimi with official misconduct, temporarily suspend him from office and name an interim sheriff. The suspension would promptly be followed by written charges and notification of the Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors.

After an arrest warrant was filed for Mirkarimi on Friday evening, Lee said that he now must review the options available under the City Charter while ensuring that he does not "take steps that undermine the integrity of the criminal justice proceedings underway."

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