By Kat Anderson
January 19, 2012
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi pled not guilty today during his arraignment of three misdemeanor charges stemming from an alleged domestic violence incident involving his wife Eliana Lopez on New Year’s Eve.
Prosecutors allege Mirkarimi hurt his wife during an argument in the presence of their two-year old son and told her not to discuss it with anyone.
Both Mirkarimi and Lopez deny any wrongdoing.
Mirkarimi’s attorney, Bob Waggener, asked presiding Superior Court Judge Susan Breall to vacate an emergency protective order imposed last week when the charges of domestic violence, child endangerment and dissuading a witness, were filed by District Attorney George Gascón. Such orders are standard practice in domestic violence cases.
Waggener stated Lopez did not want the stay away order and asked if Lopez could make a statement to the judge in private.
Judge Breall rejected Waggerner’s request stating the matter would be treated like every other domestic violence case that comes before her. That meant no private statements and no documents filed under seal. Judge Breall also expressed concern that Lopez had not met with a court-appointed domestic violence advocate. “It is not a drill,” she told Lopez’ attorney, Cheryl Wallace. “It is important that a victim go through a process in privacy without a lawyer.”
“It is my inclination to go forward with the emergency protective order,” Breall said. “I understand from what I read in the newspaper that Ms. Lopez has only been in this country a couple of years. Ms. Lopez may be in a very difficult situation.”
Wallace pointedly reacted to the judge’s “newspaper” reference. “That’s dangerous,” she intoned.
A visibly agitated Waggener countered that Ms. Lopez, a Venezuelan-born soap opera star, is a strong, independent, working woman, who speaks English and understands what is happening.
Judge Breall then agreed to handle other matters on the calendar while the parties and their attorneys discussed what to do next. During the break, Lopez and her lawyer met with a domestic violence advocate. When the judge called the group back, Waggener renewed his request to allow Lopez to speak privately. Again, Judge Breall denied the request.
Lopez told the judge she was unhappy to be portrayed as a “poor, little immigrant.” She described her over 20 years of working, traveling and living all over the world. She said she was independent and owns a home in Venezuela that is more comfortable than her home in San Francisco.
“I am not afraid of my husband, at all,” Lopez told the judge. “I’m not in danger. What is hard is waking up at 5 am and my son asks, ‘Is Dad at home?’”
Lopez then displayed the T-shirt she made with her son the night before, emblazoned with the words, ‘I want Daddy back.’
“I think the violence against me is that I do not have my family with me,” a visibly distraught Lopez told the court.
Prosecutor Elizabeth Aguilar-Tarchi argued the “stay away” order was merited based on key prosecution evidence which included a video camera recording taken by Lopez’ neighbor, Ivory Madison, on January 1 showing a large bruise on Lopez’ upper right arm. According to the police arrest affidavit, it was the second such incident of alleged physical abuse to have occurred at the couple’s residence in 2011. The affidavit also states Mirkarimi threatened to take their son, Theo, away from Lopez fearing Lopez would not return from a trip she wanted to take to Venezuela. “I am a powerful man,” Mirkarimi was said to have said, according to the police affidavit.
Text messages between Lopez and Madison corroborate the videotape, Aguilar-Tarchi said. The prosecutor highlighted a few: Mirkarimi yelled, “‘Fuck you, fuck you” at Lopez in front of their son; pushed, pulled and grabbed Lopez; called friends to boast that he, Lopez and their son were going on a “family trip,” when it was just a visit to Monterey; and recounted how the son said, “Daddy gave Mommy a boo boo.”
Aguilar-Tarchi described Lopez as a “reluctant or minimizing victim.”
Judge Breall said that she was impressed with Lopez, but given the evidence contained in the arrest warrant and the fact that a child’s safety was at stake, she would not depart from her usual protocol. She extended the protective order, but said Mirkarimi could work with the Family Court to have it modified. She ordered the parties to return to Department 17 on Monday, January 23 to set the matter for trial and to review discovery matters. She stated that Sheriff Mirkarimi must appear personally and ordered him to transfer his three firearms to the San Francisco Police Department for safe keeping.
Following the arraignment, Waggener stated, “I’m not happy. Mr. Mirkarimi is not happy. I don’t think the proper decision was made.”
“The bottom line is this,” Waggener added. “Mr. Mirkarimi did not commit domestic violence. He did not endanger his child and he did not try to dissuade his wife from talking to the police or anybody else. That’s the bottom line, and we’ll get there. There’s a lot that has to come out and it will come out soon.”
Mirkarimi’s ally, former Mayor Art Agnos, stated, “I think it’s a human tragedy. I don’t want in anyway to diminish the importance of domestic violence, and that is something I’ve supported [sic] throughout my career and as has Sheriff Mirkarimi as a supervisor. But, we have heard from the wife, from him, that this does not rise to that level. Did they have a disagreement? Absolutely, but this is what happens with every family and every relationship and things are said that you make up for afterwards, and that’s what this is.”
“Everyone should remember, that from the day of this alleged incident, until charges were brought – they were together for ten days. Suddenly, when the charges are brought, the DA wants to split up this family. That may do more damage to this child than whatever he is accusing him of,” Agnos added.
When asked for his reaction to Judge Breall’s revelation about reading accounts of the couple’s troubles in newspapers, Agnos commented, “I was surprised to hear that she is getting her information from the press. That’s not what happens in a court of law, so I hope she pays more attention to what’s going on in court because she’s a great judge.”
As she was leaving the courtroom, Lopez stopped to provide a statement.
“We made this, my son and me. We made this last night,” a distraught and tearful Ms. Lopez said referring to the a hand-painted T-shirt she wore to court containing purple and blue hand prints from Ms. Lopez and the couple’s son, Theo.
“I want daddy back,” the T-shirt read, below which a hand-sewn blue heart containing three red kisses was visible.
“I came to this country to make a family,” Lopez continued. “Because I love Ross. I know what domestic violence is and the real violence here is against me – it’s to pull our family apart. This country is not allowing me to work on my marriage in a healthy way. I feel like I’m a ball and every body is using my family, myself, in a political game, just to destroy Ross. This is the reality here.
“This country is destroying my family.”
Luke Thomas contributed to this report.