Friday, October 12, 2012

San Francisco's sheriff is a wife beater?

Like many other women I know, I was completely outraged by the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors’ decision to reinstate Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi following his domestic violence conviction.

On December 31st of last year, Mirkarimi bruised his wife Eliana Lopez’s arm during an argument about Lopez visiting her family in Venezuela with their three-year-old son. Lopez discussed the incident with a neighbor, who videotaped the bruise and Lopez’s emotional account. The neighbor then reported it to the police. Originally, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office filed three misdemeanor charges against Mirkarimi, including domestic battery, child endangerment (because the couples’ son was present), and dissuading a witness. However, in March, Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to only one misdemeanor- false imprisonment. Mayor Ed Lee immediately suspended him without pay pending an ethics investigation and recommended that Mirkarimi be removed from office permanently for committing official misconduct.

On Tuesday, following a lengthy hearing, only seven out of the eleven supervisors voted to remove Mirkarimi- two shy of the nine needed to effect such a removal. Attorneys for Mirkarimi said that his conduct did not amount to “official misconduct” because the incident occurred before he was sworn into office and wasn’t related to the sheriff’s “on-the-job” duties.

But how can that be? Isn’t the sheriff’s “on-the-job” duty to protect and serve? How can someone that has been convicted of a violent crime keep a job that entrusts him with the safety of an entire county?

John Avalos, one of the four supervisors who rejected Mayor Lee’s call to remove Mirkarimi said, “…that egregious misconduct does not fall within the definition of official misconduct. We must interpret this provision narrowly, or open the door, open the door wide, for potential abuse.”

Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser said that it is “ludicrous” to think domestic violence is unrelated to the sheriff’s official duties because he oversees domestic violence programs and oversees the jails in which domestic batterers are held.

Mayor Ed Lee expressed that he “strongly disagrees” with the Board’s decision. He said
The board’s decision returns a convicted domestic batterer to lead the sheriff’s office. Domestic violence has no place in our city, will never be considered a private family matter and will never be tolerated.
Many attacked Mayor Lee’s position as overreaching, arguing, as one article put it, that he “usurped the will of the men and women who voted the sheriff into office.” Personally, I think some of those who voted Mirkarimi into office would now change their vote if they could. 

Equally surprising was Mirkarimi’s victim’s response to the incident. During the months of coverage following the December 31st incident, Eliana Lopez “stood by her man.” Images of her standing next to her husband and smiling or holding a sign that read “Reinstate Our Sheriff” frequented the news. During a May interview with ABC 7 News in Caracas, Venezuela, Lopez denied reports that this violent incident was not the first. Lopez also stated, “Maybe I will get divorced from Ross, but I am very close with him in this fight. This is about justice.” She said that she thought the possible punishment of never being able to run for political office again was “fascist.” 

Following the decision of the board, Lopez said, “This process has been so long and stressful…But thanks for giving me the strength to keep fighting, to say this is wrong.” Keep in mind that what Lopez thinks is wrong is removing a convicted domestic batterer from office- not her husband’s violence.


Pali said...

I am not sure if I necessarily disagree with the decision to reinstate the sheriff. The sheriff is human, just like everyone else. If we began expelling every transgressing officer, we would not have much of a police/sheriff's department. If anything I am surprised, and impressed that the sheriff was prosecuted, and convicted fairly. He was treated like any other citizen, rather than being treated preferentially.

It would be significantly different if it was conduct that suggested he was unfit for his position-- if he had accepted a bribe, or something.

I would probably feel different the officer had severely beat his wife using excessive force, but I do not think domestic disputes are as black and white as people try to paint them.

Patricija said...

I don't have a particularly intellectual response to this besides what you have already stated. What I do have is an emotional response. Sheriff's should be held to high standards. I am embarrassed and unnerved as a woman that the person who is responsible for my safety and the safety of others has admitted and been convicted of domestic violence.

MC said...
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MC said...
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MC said...

I absolutely agree that some, if not many, of the men and women who voted Mirkarimi into office would have voted differently if they had known about his propensity to perpetrate domestic violence. I’m not sure if the Sheriff will ever respond to domestic violence calls in San Francisco, but this is certainly true for Sheriffs in smaller cities and towns. Would he be sympathetic to perpetrators of domestic violence, given his own violent tendencies? I wonder if the four supervisors who voted to keep Mirkarimi in office considered how a victim in this situation would feel about the sheriff, knowing that he engaged in the same harmful activity they need protection from.