EDITORIAL We know for a fact that on New Year's Eve, 2011, Ross Mirkarimi, the elected but unsworn sheriff of San Francisco, had a physical altercation with his wife that left her with a bruised arm. We know she later complained about that bruise on a video lasting less than a minute. Beyond that, nobody except Mirkarimi and Eliana Lopez knows exactly what happened; there were no witnesses except the couple's three-year-old son, no video taken during the fight, no audio recordings — nothing.
We know that Mirkarimi agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment — although we also know there was never any evidence that he actually imprisoned anyone.
That's all we really know about the incident that has set off an expensive, drawn-out, political and legal battle that could change the city's politics for years to come. If the whole thing seems a little overblown, that's because it is.
There is nothing in the record that justifies Mayor Ed Lee's move to suspend Mirkarimi, and nothing that would justify the supervisors voting to remove him from office. In fact, a removal vote would set a dangerous precedent for future mayors in a city that already gives its chief executive far too much power.
Let us examine the three main reasons why the board needs to vote to restore the elected sheriff.
1. If you believe Eliana Lopez, there's no case.
The only person other than Mirkarimi who can honestly and accurately testify about the events of New Year's eve is Lopez — and she has been clear, consistent, and convincing in her account.
Lopez acknowledges that she and her husband have had marital issues, that Mirkarimi wasn't as supportive or her and their young son as he should have been, that he was away from home and working when she should have been sharing domestic duties. She was considering divorce — but was worried that Mirkarimi might gain custody of their boy.
She testified under oath before the Ethics Commission that Mirkarimi was never someone who "beats his wife" (to use Lee's utterly inappropriate terminology). He had no history of domestic violence with her.
What he did was grab her arm during an argument, leaving a bruise. Inexcusable, but hardly a sign of serious assault. In fact, Lopez testified that she bruises so easily that just playing around with three-year-old Theo can leave marks on her.
Lopez testified that she made the video to use as a tool — a bargaining chip, so to speak — if Mirkarimi ever sought to gain custody of their son. She said she believed that her neighbor, Ivory Madison, who made the video, was a lawyer and that the video would be protected by attorney-client confidentiality. She said she never wanted to go to the police and never felt physically threatened by her husband.
The mayor charged Mirkarimi with attempting to dissuade witnesses and interfere with a police investigation, but those charges were based almost entirely on the testimony of Madison, whose rambling 22-page statement was so full of hearsay that the Ethics Commission tossed almost all of it. There was absolutely no evidence of witness tampering, and those claims were dismissed.
In fact, the only reason the commission recommended removal is the fact that Mirkarimi bruised his wife and pled to a misdemeanor — one that everyone knows he didn't really commit. Remember: It's legal, and common, in misdemeanor cases to plead to something you never did to avoid facing trial on more serious charges.
There's no principled way to accept as credible the testimony of Lopez and still vote to remove the sheriff. If she's telling the truth — and we believe her — the case should end right there.
2. Mirkarimi was chosen by the voters, and the voters can freely remove him.