In a marathon meeting, a majority of seven supervisors voted to oust suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, falling short of the nine votes required to remove him from San Francisco’s top elected law enforcement office.
The board voted after nearly 10 hours of public comment and testimony at City Hall Tuesday night, bringing to an end a long saga that divided the city.
While most supervisors deplored Mirkarimi’s conduct, the four who cast pivotal votes — David Campos, Jane Kim, John Avalos and Christina Olague – concluded that his actions fell short of official misconduct.
Campos spoke to the severity of domestic violence but added that the board should ultimately decide based on the law and evidence, not on “what’s in the papers.”
“If there is wrongful conduct that doesn’t fall within official misconduct, there is the recall process,” he said.
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, among the seven who voted for Mirkarimi’s ouster, said that it is the responsibility of the board to act on — and not only speak for — a “zero tolerance” policy.
“Redemption doesn’t mean that you don’t experience loss as a consequence,” he said. “You can have redemption … It doesn’t mean you can continue to hold that office.”
Mirkarimi touched off sensational headlines and 10 months of bitter debate after he grabbed and bruised the arm of his wife, Eliana Lopez, during an argument last New Year’s Eve, fewer than 10 days before he was sworn in as sheriff. The incident came to light after neighbor Ivory Madison made a video of a teary Lopez pointing to the bruise. Madison later contacted police, who confiscated the video.
Mirkarimi was suspended without pay by Mayor Ed Lee after pleading guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment in March. He was also sentenced to three years’ probation and one year of domestic violence counseling.
Lee made clear his intent to remove Mirkarimi permanently, stating that the criminal plea made him unfit for the office. Mirkarimi and his supporters, including Lopez, alleged that the removal attempt was part of a political “witch hunt,” calling Lee’s actions “unprecedented” given the nature of the crime and the fact that it took place before Mirkarimi was sworn in.
Mirkarimi’s fate was left to the Board of Supervisors after the city’s Ethics Commission found him guilty of official misconduct in August. Mirkarimi himself served as supervisor for District 5 for seven years before being elected sheriff, adding another element of contention to the vote.
The vote was preceded by a large noontime rally on the steps of City Hall. About 150 Mirkarimi supporters chanted “Ross is Boss” and “We love Ross” as speakers — from ex-convicts to Archbishop Franzo King to former Mayor Art Agnos – addressed the crowd.
Mirkarimi, Lopez and their son Theo arrived at the rally after visiting a local pumpkin patch. The couple smiled as they hugged and mingled with supporters before briefly addressing the crowd.
“This is a nice welcome after 10 months of what has been an amazing ordeal,” Mirkarimi said, adding that a vote to remove him from office would be “a constitutional blow.”
Brenda Barros, who worked on Mirkarimi’s campaign, attended the rally and the subsequent vote to express her support.
“The reasons I thought he would be best for sheriff are still valid,” she said. “I don’t believe anyone should have their livelihood removed forever because they made a mistake.”
Mission visual artist and city politico Debra Walker worked closely with Mirkarimi on medical cannabis regulation during her eight-year stint on the Democratic County Central Committee.
“I have supported Ross in all his elections,” Walker said in an interview inside City Hall. “This is being blown way out of proportion and the facts are being entirely misrepresented.”
Despite the presence of a large number of Mirkarimi supporters, not all who attended were in his favor.
“For a sheriff convicted with a domestic violence charge to oversee the very program that he will be expected to attend for three-fourths of his term is far from progressive,” said Nicole Baran, a lecturer at Stanford University and executive director and founder of the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness.
Inside the Board of Supervisors’ chamber, Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser said that the private actions of an elected law enforcement official reflect on the office. “Domestic violence is an epidemic in this city,” she said.
Mirkarimi’s attorney, David Waggoner, said that “Ross Mirkarimi campaigned on the power of redemption … the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”