By Luke Thomas
September 11, 2012
As many as 150 women gathered Sunday on the steps of City Hall to demonstrate their support for suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and to repudiate efforts by Mayor Ed Lee to remove a political opponent from office at the expense of democracy and taxpayer funds.
Holding signs that read, “Stand with Eliana and Ross, Reinstate our Sheriff” and “I believe Eliana” in both Spanish and English, the supporters posed for photos while the couple’s three-year-old son, Theo, expended energy in giddy excitement.
Eliana Lopez, a native Venezuelan and trained thespian, glowed with the warmth and air of a first lady.
Mirkarimi was elected Sheriff in November garnering more votes than Lee whom Mirkarimi opposed as interim mayor when Mirkarimi served on the Board of Supervisors. Mirkarimi, an independent progressive who wasted little time in cozying up to his peers on the Board of Supervisors or San Francisco’s political machine, preferring instead to advance sensible policies around public safety – would soon learn that a price would be exacted against him at the earliest opportunity.
That opportunity presented itself on January 4 – four days before Sheriff-elect Mirkarimi would be sworn into office – when it was revealed a police investigation was underway into a reported domestic violence incident triggered by the couple’s neighbor, Ivory Madison, who, without Lopez’ consent or permission, called police to report she had a video of a tearful Lopez recounting a heated argument Lopez had with her husband on December 31 during which Mirkarimi grabbed Lopez’s arm and caused a bruise.
As Lopez testified before the Ethics Commission, the video was made January 1 at Madison’s urging which could be used, Madison said, to “screw” Mirkarimi in case the couple sought divorce and entered into a child custody battle.
Regardless of its purpose, the video recording, now in the hands of police, who overwhelmingly supported former SFPOA President Chris Cunnie over Mirkarimi for Sheriff, would, it was hoped, be all that was needed to whip up an anti-Mirkarimi mania in an effort to wipe Mirkarimi’s name off the honors board and return control of the Sheriff’s department to one of their own.
What followed next was a cascade of hardships imposed on the Mirkarimi-Lopez family including Mirkarimi’s forced separation from his wife for seven months; supervised visitation with his son; criminal charges filed by a newly elected District Attorney with strong ties to Lee’s moneyed boosters; anti-domestic violence billboards funded in part by Mirkarimi’s political opponents; Lee’s suspension of Mirkarimi without pay and Lee’s use of the media to label Mirkarimi a “wife beater” in an attempt to counter multiple allegations that he lied under oath during an Ethics Commission probe comprising political appointees, allegations District Attorney George Gascón and the Ethics Commission dismissed, respectively, as “lacking evidence” and “irrelevant.”
Gascón also refused to investigate video evidence of voter fraud committed by Lee’s backers in Chinatown, inaction that signals a green light to would be beneficiaries of political corruption in San Francisco.
Jane Morrison, a longtime SF Democratic Party matriarch and women’s rights activist who attended the rally in support of Mirkarimi, told FCJ, “He [Lee] didn’t have to get involved and it was wrong of him to suspend Ross without pay. This matter should be decided by the people and the courts, not the politicians.”
“I am appalled at the assault on democracy in San Francisco,” added Vivian Imperiale, a vocational rehabilitation coordinator who works for the City. “I thought this was a liberal bastion and what I’m seeing here is absolutely frightening. There was no due process. He lost his family and his job without pay. Amazing. This makes me think this is spiteful politics at play because there’s no explanation for why he is being treated so differently.”
Mirkarimi was quick to offer an explanation.
“By removing an elected sheriff, the mayor is able to install a caretaker sheriff and then do what we now see happening – to consolidate power in the criminal justice industry which is resistant to liberal and progressive thought,” he said.
“This is about the integrity of our local democracy,” Mirkarimi continued. “The punishment doesn’t fit the crime and what’s at stake here is much larger of an issue than whether to just reinstate Ross Mirkarimi as Sheriff.”
Ultimately the Board of Supervisors will decide if Mirkarimi’s plea to one misdemeanor count of false imprisonment warrants Mirkarimi’s removal from office. Seven members of the eleven-member Board are attorneys well versed in interpreting legal jargon and applying the intent and spirit of official misconduct as defined in the City Charter.
What is uncertain is whether political pressures will render their judgments devoid of integrity and courage.
“If you look at this as a lawyer, and you look at it in an analytical way, you have to come down to the fact that this crime that he pled to, a low-level misdemeanor, does not constitute official misconduct within the meaning of the City Charter,” said Lopez and Mirkarimi defense attorney Paula Canny. “Sometimes, doing the right thing isn’t the popular thing and they need to do the right thing and not be so afraid of their political lives because, when all is said and done, they’ve got to live with their conscience for the rest of their lives.”
“The best pillow is a good conscience,” Canny added. “None of them are going to sleep right if they do the political expedient thing, but they’ll all sleep right and feel good about themselves if they vote to reinstate Ross.”