DA, mayor seek law to ensure no sheriff conflict

Oct 30, 2012, 12:37 AM

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The district attorney and the mayor said Monday they are seeking legislation to prohibit the reinstated San Francisco sheriff from overseeing any domestic violence programs in his department while he’s on probation in such a case.

District Attorney George Gascon and Mayor Ed Lee said they were not satisfied with Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s response to Gascon’s request to recuse himself from duties in his office related to domestic violence offenders.

Mirkarimi told The Associated Press last week that he feels he has no conflicts of interest, even though he is on three years of probation for a misdemeanor conviction stemming from a New Year’s Eve argument with his wife, Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez.

Gascon said the proposed ordinance would prevent officials charged with felonies from handling cases involving the same crimes for 10 years. Those with misdemeanors could not handle similar cases for five years.

“It is obvious to me that we cannot trust the sheriff to do the right things, so we’re going to have to make sure that the right things are taken care of,” Gascon said after announcing the city has received a $650,000 federal grant to help high-risk domestic violence victims.

Mirkarimi previously said domestic violence programs are led by a command chain of highly experienced members of his department.

“We do not anticipate any conflict of interest that implicates me or any member of our department in conjunction with program direction or outcome,” Mirkarimi wrote in an Oct. 22 letter to Gascon. “In the event a potential conflict arises, steps will be taken to ensure that program integrity remains uncompromised.”

The sheriff’s department did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment Monday.

Mirkarimi said last week that he is humbled and ashamed of the domestic violence case that resulted in his criminal conviction and nearly forced him out of office.

He acknowledged the nearly 10-month fight for his job created deep divisions in the city, but added he is optimistic he can work with the district attorney who prosecuted him and the mayor who tried to oust him.

Mirkarimi called his reinstatement more “bittersweet” than “vindication.”

“I’m truly grateful and thankful, and I forever will be that humbled servant that has this opportunity to show why I was elected sheriff in the first place,” Mirkarimi said.

Lee suspended Mirkarimi in March after the sheriff pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge related to his domestic dispute. Lee then tried permanently removing Mirkarimi by filing official misconduct charges.

Despite calls by anti-domestic violence advocates to remove Mirkarimi, the Board of Supervisors voted against the move. Hundreds of Mirkarimi supporters attending the Oct. 9 meeting cheered.

“The supervisors had some very astute things to say, some of it was even hard for me to hear,” Mirkarimi said. “But I listened closely to it all and take it with me as a compass point on how to proceed as sheriff and as a man, as a father, and as a husband.”

Gascon then publicly called on Mirkarimi on Oct. 10 to recuse himself from the domestic violence-related duties.

“The reality is that he’s on probation for a domestic violence incident,” Gascon reiterated Monday. “He cannot with a straight face lead a rehabilitative process. He cannot with a straight face hold people accountable, internally or externally.”

Mirkarimi remains steadfast in his push to mend his standing within the city. He recently sent a letter to Lee asking for reconciliation, especially within the anti-domestic violence community.

Lee said Monday he has no plans to talk with Mirkarimi.

“I don’t want anything misinterpreted,” said Lee, adding that he and Gascon want a specific, written strategy from Mirkarimi on his plan to deal with any potential conflicts.

Mirkarimi’s case unfolded from a Dec. 31 argument with Lopez over whether she could travel to her native Venezuela with their toddler son. During the dispute, Mirkarimi grabbed and bruised Lopez’s arm.

When Mirkarimi appeared at his Jan. 8 swearing-in ceremony with his family, he called the incident a “private matter, a family matter,” a remark that touched off a firestorm. Mirkarimi said he regrets the comment, saying it came from a statement handed to him by his lawyer.

“It was only because we didn’t know what was happening, because we hadn’t talked to law enforcement yet,” Mirkarimi said. “I absolutely regret that I did not correct that narrative.”

Further shocked from the fallout, Mirkarimi said he shut down.

“I was ashamed,” he said.

The sheriff said he has reunited with his wife and undergoes individual, group and couples counseling. He’s also seeking redemption for admittedly causing so much division within San Francisco.

“I apologize to the city for any of that,” Mirkarimi said.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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DA, mayor seek law to ensure no sheriff conflict