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S.F. sheriff gets 3 years of probation for imprisoning wife

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 11:25 a.m. CST

SAN FRANCISCO (MCT) —Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, sentenced for falsely imprisoning his wife during a New Year’s Eve argument, apologized Monday and said, “I accept full responsibility.”

In a plea agreement reached as the case was about to go to trial, the district attorney’s office dropped misdemeanor charges of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness. Mirkarimi was sentenced to three years of probation. He must perform 100 hours of community service, take 52 weeks of domestic violence classes and pay $590 in fines and fees.

Mirkarimi talked about the “shame and the ordeal that I caused,” choking up outside Department 23 after being sentenced. He rued “not being able to see my wife, to only see my son on an average of two hours a day and the very public reminder that I am not the person that I thought I was.”

It all, he said, “provides for a dark world, where my flaws stand bright” for all to see. The sheriff, who has been in office for less than three months, said that he already has started counseling “to address my arrogance and anger issues.”

But Mirkarimi’s sentencing has not ended the much-watched family drama.

Mayor Edwin M. Lee, who is under pressure to remove Mirkarimi from his post, met with the sheriff at City Hall after the sentencing. He plans to announce his decision Tuesday, spokesman Francis Tsang said.

Staying in office could be a complicated matter for the sheriff: He was sentenced in a courtroom secured by bailiffs who report to him. In January, he was booked into the jail he runs.

Mirkarimi also will spend the next 52 weeks in a batterer’s intervention program like the one he oversees in the San Francisco County Jail — and which is attended by more than 100 of his inmates. His deputies serve domestic violence suspects with stay-away orders like the one that keeps him from contacting his wife, Eliana Lopez, for the foreseeable future.

Political strategist Dan Newman said Mirkarimi is “essentially a zombie sheriff now, with no respect from his department or the voters” and questioned how he can do “any part of his job at this point.” Whether the sheriff’s saga “ends in his resignation, removal or a recall,” Newman said, “is almost a mere technicality.”

Anti-domestic-violence activists, who appeared with District Attorney George Gascon after the sentencing Monday, called loudly for Mirkarimi’s ouster, arguing that he has broken trust with the city and cannot be depended on to fulfill his duties.

“I think the mayor has a very good heart, and I think he should gather his courage,” said Beverly Upton, executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium. “He should start the ball rolling in removing Ross from office. A recall would cost millions of dollars. Courage costs nothing.”

Hamish Sinclair is executive director and founder of the domestic violence intervention program Manalive, which treats batterers at the San Francisco County Jail.

On Monday, Sinclair said he was worried about how much good domestic violence counseling would do Mirkarimi, because “he has not taken responsibility for being violent.”

Just what Mirkarimi was taking responsibility for was a major question in and after court.

The sheriffs aid Monday that “what happened shouldn’t have happened, and I am internally, deeply sorry.” He said that he was “ashamed and deeply sorry for my behavior.” But he neither described nor characterized it.

Gascon was concerned enough about the sincerity of Mirkarimi’s guilty plea last week that he had threatened to rescind it and send the sheriff to trial. Mirkarimi had been quoted in the local media, Gascon said Monday, sounding like he was trying to “minimize or to somehow walk away from responsibility in this case.”

“That gave me a great deal of concern, particularly because we’re talking about someone who is a top law enforcement official,” Gascon said. “We, as law enforcement officials, should not only take responsibility for our acts, but we have to make sure that we communicate our belief in the system.”

After the sentencing, Gascon said that he was comfortable that Mirkarimi was now “assuming responsibility for his acts.” But Gascon had to be pressed repeatedly before he would describe what happened on Dec. 31.

“We know that there was an argument, that he grabbed her, that he bruised her,” Gascon said. Lopez “was not freely allowed to leave her home” after the incident, which led to the false imprisonment charge.

“There are some people trying to spin this situation that it is not a domestic violence charge and that it is a lesser charge,” Gascon said. “It is neither.”

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