Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi didn’t want to cop a plea. He knew the damage it would cause to his political career and he was prepared to fight the charges. But when it became clear that he was losing every single motion around the admissibility of evidence, even when he and his attorney, Lidia Stiglich, were convinced they were right on the merits -- and when it was clear from juror surveys that virtually everyone in town had read the salacious press accounts and it was impossible to find a neutral jury, he decided he had no choice.
That’s what people close to the sheriff told me shortly after Mirkarimi unexpectedly agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment. It may seem an odd plea for a sheriff, but it was a way to get rid of the more serious charges. A domestic violence conviction would seriously interfere with Mirkarimi’s job -- among other things, nobody with a DV rap can possess a gun -- not that the sheriff of San Francisco needs to carry a gun, but in the law-enforcement world, domestic violence is (properly) taken very seriously.
The calls for the sheriff to resign have already started. An informal sfgate poll on the subject is already posted.
I talked to Mirkarimi shortly after he appeared in court, and he told me he has no plans to step down. “I wanted to resolve this matter and move forward with the important work of the department. And I terribly miss my family and I want to be re-united.”
That’s going to be tough -- someone will probably try to mount a recall effort and every single detail that has come out so far in the news media will be repeated if and when he runs for re-election in three years. In politics, that’s a long time away -- but these kinds of charges never disappear.
People close to the sheriff told me that that Mirkarimi was concerned that he couldn’t find a jury that hadn’t already convicted him in their minds. “The questionnaires were very clear,” one ally said. “Nearly everyone had read the newspapers and already had some kind of a negative opinion.”
Among other things, his friends said, Mirkarimi was concerned that a former girlfriend, Christina Marie Flores, would be allowed to testify against him -- despite what his team considered serious questions about her credibility.
Flores used to be my next-door neighbor and I’ve always been friendly with her. I was on her TV show once. But the news media accounts have essentially ignored a detail that was in one of Mirkarimi’s defense motions: After they broke up, Flores sent Mirkarimi a hate poem in which she not-terribly subtly threatened to damage his political career.
I’m not going to quote all of the emails cited in the brief (breakup+email=bad news); suffice to say that until December, 2008, Flores was clearly in love with Mirkarimi and sending him passionate notes asking him to reconsider what was obviously a move by Mirkarimi to end the relationship. (And yeah, there were nude pictures that Mirkarimi was supposed to “enjoy when you miss me.” Gak.)
On Jan 2, 2009, the brief states, “having understood that the relationship with Mirkarimi was over, Flores sent Mirkarimi a lengthy hate poem. In startling contrast to her prior e-mails to Mirkarimi, Flores now called Mirkarami `the worst type of waste of air’ and said that there ‘are smarter and more handsome men BY FAR.’
“Flores ended the poem with the following:
So as 2009 rolls in and you roll out
I remember what my life was all about
Surrounded by so many of my friends
I am rich and happy with how my story ends
Except one thing.
I have never had the distinct pleasure
Of meeting such an idiot of such great measure
That freely let me know of things
That could unwind plans of what his political future brings
Yes, I do know those, some of whom you hate.
Who could have a say in your fate
And long friendships with some that you despise
That after the fact have opened my eyes.
What to do with the ball in my court ...
Let us see what happens.”
Don’t know who “some of whom you hate” means, but Mirkarimi has had a contentious relationship the San Francisco Police Department. Flores is the daughter of a police officer and the ex-wife of another officer, who happens to be a domestic violence inspector.
Three years after that poem was written, when she heard about the DV allegations against Mirkarimi, she filed a police report alleging similar behavior. She also talked to two newspapers, the Chronicle and SF Weekly.
In her statement to the district attorney’s office, the brief states, “Flores conceded that she wanted to go public for personal reasons: ‘He said that that woman from Venuzuela (Lopez) knew about our relationship and it didn’t matter to her ... which I think is a lie. And that’s probably why I’m here because I don’t think she knew.’”
Doesn’t mean that anything she claims about Mirkarimi was untrue. A woman who is mad at her ex-boyfriend for whatever still has every right to complain about domestic violence, even later; if she was physically abused, then what happened at other points in the relationship doesn’t change anything.
But it’s interesting that the daily papers, which reported freely on the prosecution’s side of this story, haven’t mentioned the equally fascinating (and tawdry) allegations in the defense brief.
It's the kind of thing that, Mirkarimi's allies say, made it hard to find a fair jury.
Judges these days go out of their way not to exclude evidence in DV cases, and the fact that this was such a high-profile political case made that even more dramatic. Ruling that the videotape of Mirkarimi’s wife crying and showing a bruise and the testimony of an ex-girlfriend who said he abused her inadmissible would most likely have forced the district attorney to drop the charges. Very few judges would want to take that risk.
So now Mirkarimi has to deal with the fallout, and it raises the question: Can the progressive community accept and once again support a sheriff who has all of this baggage? Is there anything Mirkarimi can do to convince his allies and the voters that either (a) the charges were overblown or (b) he’s learned from this, is going into counseling, is a changed person, and can seek political redemption?
The city forgave Gavin Newsom when he had sex with his close friend’s wife (after he allegedly went into treatment for alcohol abuse) and forgave Willie Brown when he impregnated a campaign fundraiser (because nobody cares about that sort of thing these days), but domestic violence is a very different deal. As it should be.
Any yet, some people are clearly willing to give him a chance. Alix Rosenthal, a longtime leader on women’s issues who supported Mirkarimi for sheriff, told me that she doesn’t think he should step down.
“I think this whole thing has been blown way out of proportion,” she said.
Mirkarimi, she noted, needs to publicly go into counseling with his wife (which he can’t do until the stay-away order is lifted -- seriously, right now he can’t even go to counseling with his wife) and he needs to make it clear that he’s addressing anger-management issues. But she thinks he can still play a role in the progressive community.
There will be other progressives who disagree, and Mirkarimi will have to win them over. And all the while, the supporters of Chris Cunnie, the former Police Officers Association president who lost to Mirkarimi in the fall, aren’t going to let this go away quietly.
UPDATE: The Chron is already calling on Mayor Ed Lee to "investigate" the sheriff for misconduct. Investigate? As if there's anything that hasn't already become public? The real message is that the Chron wants Lee to try to get rid of Mirkarimi. And so it begins.
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