Mirkarimi case: Eliana Lopez friend and defender Myrna Melgar responds to critics

The media has missed some points in the Mirkarimi debate

My opinion piece regarding the plight of my friend Eliana Lopez and San Francisco’s approach to handling domestic violence in her case has generated a lot of discussion since it was printed last week. I have heard from a lot of folks who tell me that it has challenged their assumptions about the particular situation but also about the unintended outcomes of handling all domestic violence through the criminal justice system. It has also generated quite a bit of defensiveness from some anti-domestic violence advocates, who have suggested that questioning their methods is an attack on their goals – it is not, and people who dedicate themselves to helping victims of domestic violence have my very highest respect and admiration.

So allow me elaborate that a little further on that point:

No one is advocating for the return to the bad old days when we looked away from the abuse of women. I am pointing out that for many, having the police automatically open a criminal investigation, regardless of the nature of the problem, which is then followed by prosecution, is a strong deterrent to seeking help.  Defining progress by rates of conviction while we know that more than half of domestic abuse incidents go unreported suggests that something in our approach is not working. 

Domestic violence seldom begins with a murder. It usually begins with the putdowns, the sarcasm, the psychological and emotional abuse, and then, often, to escalating levels of physical abuse. Of course, not every guy who makes sarcastic remarks will eventually hit his girlfriend. Instead of opening a criminal case when the first call comes in from an affected party or a well-meaning neighbor, how about we create a support system within mental health and family support that has a trained health professionals who can answer questions and guide a path to rehabilitation?  

San Francisco has led the way in showing the country how an integrated, public health-oriented healthcare system, community rooted and accessible to all, ought to be run.  We have the technology already to share data among health care professionals that can be immediately transferred to criminal justice professionals when needed.  A system that has only one gear -- criminal prosecution -- that treats women as children, robs them of their voice and their rights, and renders them incapable of making their own decisions at the slightest evidence or even accusation of abuse is a system that needs to evolve.  We can do better. We need to stop domestic violence while at the same time working towards equal rights and the empowerment of all women individually and as a whole. Those two things must never be mutually exclusive goals.

Despite the strong reactions my opinion has generated in the past week among people who defend the current system, no one has addressed the problem that the zero-tolerance criminalization approach has created in communities where there is fear of the police. It seems that everyone wants to talk about Eliana Lopez, mostly as an appendage of Ross Mirkarimi, but the many women facing this issue remain seemingly invisible in this conversation, their fears and issues unaddressed.  I have heard from immigrants’ rights advocates that they have been voicing these concerns for years, and have gotten nowhere within the domestic violence community. We can do better.

In her essay on March 29 in the Huffington Post, Andrea Shorter of the Commission on the Status of Women explains that the current system for dealing with domestic violence came about as the implementation of 84 recommendations by a group of advocates in response to the gruesome 2000 murder of an Asian immigrant woman at the hands of her boyfriend. In the past 12 years, great progress has been made in reducing domestic violence related homicide rates, both in San Francisco and across the country.

But 12 years is a long time, and a critical look at the system that we have created is needed. It's important to note that immigrant women are still overrepresented in the domestic-violence homicide statistics in San Francisco. We can do better. We need a system that is both capable of responding quickly and decisively to cases where women’s security or lives are at stake, but of also handling the far more numerous and ambiguous cases in which domestic troubles have not reached that point, but in which families need help to make sure that they do not.

Finally, I feel I must address a couple of the specific accusations that have been made that are just not true. I have never worked for Ross Mirkarimi. I didn’t even contribute to his campaign. (It is, after all, possible for a woman to have an opinion independent of a man’s agenda). I care about my friend Eliana, and the issue of domestic violence. My interest was in addressing what I saw as an thoughtless reaction both by our government and much of our media, which produced results that were needlessly cruel and counter-productive to the people directly involved, and that also, ironically given the supposed purpose of the whole exercise, sent a bad message on how to respond to domestic violence.


Have you no better way of defending Ross "I am a very powerful man" Mirkarimi other than through insulting those who followed the law by turning over evidence?

Posted by Troll II on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

None of her posts make any sense and I'm still not sure what she even believes in, if anything, other than her own dried up ego.

The woman should be put out to pasture.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

Unfortunately, she got stuck arguing the issue with a bunch of psychotic half-wits (aka trolls). Christine, you're brilliant, but I wouldn't waste my breath on these fools.

Posted by Zack on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

Think we can't see thru you?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 6:51 pm

But...but I just came in from the pasture and wrapping a very patient horse's leg, while planning my broadcast for this upcoming sunday at `10pm. I'm in the pasture a lot ...every day. Your threat won't work. I'm not intimidated by being called "too old".. I wrote a book entitled "too old" etc. years ago. If I'm too old, then the EAgles will have to stop performing and Hillary Clinton will have to resign her position as Sec'y of State.

Posted by GuestChristine Craft on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 9:03 am

Zero tolerance for political rivals of the mayor. Message received loud and clear.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 5:54 pm

abuse their wives and tell them that they don't deserve to eat.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

and if the voluptuous Eliana told you she has always had plenty to eat, you would tell her she's prevaricating? because how could she possibly know her own mind and her own body..being just a woman and all?

Posted by GuestChristine Craft on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 8:31 am

That explains why she doesn't want Ross to lose his job - it was effect the amount of alimony she can get.

Neither Ross nor Eliana get much credit here, but that doesn't mean Ross wasn't guilty and, indeed, he's already admitted it and apologised for it.

Now we are just discussing whether he should get his job back. 70% in the last poll said NO.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 10:13 am

if not, you know zilch about her motives.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

future divorce, so we know she was thinking in those terms. And once Eliana realized that this prosecution could cost Ross his job and salary, she did a 180, seeing her windfall alimony profits vaporizing into thin air.

I don't need to personally know Eliana to understand human nature, especially when she put it all so conveniently onto a plate for us.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 5:49 pm

The Fire Chief.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

Zero tolerance for fire chiefs who smash glasses over their spouse's head and then say he lied when he called 911.


-- Chief's husband said he feared for his kids
In 911 tape, he's heard telling dispatcher his wife gave him 'two big bumps' on head -

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

That kinda makes a difference, ya know?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

Don't you understand that? It has nothing to do with Ross or Eliana or Theo - it's really about Joanna Hayes-White and Gavin Newsom - or Ruby and Alex Tourk and Gavin Newsom. Or Rose Pak and Ed Lee. ANYTHING other than a discussion of spousal abuse!

Posted by Troll II on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

This case is about "zero tolerance" and how it is applied to political rivals.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

When Joanna Hayes-White is convicted I'll be the first demanding she resign. Allegations not backed up by a conviction? Complete difference. It's difficult to understand how you don't see the difference other than the fact that it doesn't fit your narrative.

Posted by Troll II on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

presumption of innocence, the two cases have to be deemed completely different and distinct.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

Allowing a spouse to recant a frantic 911 call? That's not zero tolerance.


"The husband of San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said Monday that he was recanting his accusation that Hayes-White had struck him on the head with a glass, according to police and the chief's attorney."

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

Hardly "zero tolerance."

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

"Of course, not every guy who makes sarcastic remarks will eventually hit his girlfriend. "

This is misleading. ross wasn't arrested or convicted for making remarks, but rather prosecuted for domestic violence and convicted of false imprisonment. He used force beyond words in a fight. Physical abuse, be it minor or extreme, IS against the law. The job of law enforcement is to investigate crimes, when reported, because crime harms society at large not serve as marriage counselors (which actually was what they TRIED to do in the "bad old days".) Also, since DV is an escalating crime, the earlier the intervention the better chance that treatment may be effective in preventing escalation to full fledge beatings or murder. This means more misdemeanor prosecutions and diversion/probation sentences and fewer felony battery or murder charges. This is good for everyone. Keep in mind that the batterer and the battered often, as in this case, love each other. No batterer wants to believe he will kill the spouse he loves any more than the victim wants to believe the abuser might eventually kill her (him). The denial goes both ways, which makes the need for outside intervention all the more needed when neither party is willing or able to admit the danger of the cycle.

"Instead of opening a criminal case when the first call comes in from an affected party or a well-meaning neighbor, how about we create a support system within mental health and family support that has a trained health professionals who can answer questions and guide a path to rehabilitation? "

DV is a crime that is underreported for a myriad of reasons including loyalty to the abuser, the belief the fight is a private matter, fear of police intervention, fear of punishment for the abuser, fear of retaliation, and love. There are resources available to both abused and absuers however, that are separate and do not involve criminal charges. Domestic violence advocates do not force victims to report to police crimes committed against them nor do they report the batterer. A victim of DV can talk with an advocate without fear that the case will be turned over to police. A batterer can seek treatment without being reported to the police. So, there is already a network of support available for vicitms of DV and perpetrators if they choose to use it. The problem with the voluntary services is that nearly NO batterers voluntarily seek or complete treatment.

The reports indicate that Eliana told her neighbor that this was the 2nd physical altercation in Ross and Eliana's marriage. At any point between the first and second altercation, Ross could have sought treatment. Eliana could have sought counseling. Neither acted on the voluntary options, but rather, both allowed the situation to escalate. Your own initial opinion piece indicated Ross was too busy to go to marital counseling. Do you think he would be less busy as the Sheriff of San Francisco? Do you think he would have voluntarily sought treatment for his anger and control issues. Absent legal intervention, the abuser will almost always be too busy to get help.

Your piece sounds enlightened, but it is nothing but fluff.

Posted by Georgia on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 7:19 pm

Sometimes the simple truth is all we need.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 8:06 pm


Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

about why women are often other women's worst enemies? you should

Promise that if someone you know and love( like one of your own children) ever in an argument with a spouse takes hold of that person's arm and that person angrily pulls away..leaving a bruise..promise that you will see your loved one not only prosecuted but destroyed.okey doke?

Posted by GuestChristine Craft on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 8:35 am

"pulling away" is deeply insulting to battered women everywhere.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 10:14 am

That Ross was not actually convicted of causing the bruise but depriving his wife of her liberty-False Imprisonment.

Posted by DNative on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 10:54 am

She's making absolutely no sense, despite the sheer volume of her posts.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 11:34 am

I want to pose a question here to the folks who are always attacking me, the Guardian and progressives.

If this incident had involved a police chief or sheriff appointed by and acceptable the the mayor and the power structure in this town, do you think this incident would have been treated differently?

Honestly, I don't know. I'd like to think the DA and the mayor would have responded in exactly the same way, that there was no politics here at all. Given the history of how these things have been handled in this city, I'm not sure I believe that.

Not a conspiracy theory here, and not defending Ross Mirkarimi (how many times do I have to say that? Jesus.) Just wondering if all of you are convinced that the same approach would have been taken with someone who was a friend and charter member of the old boys network that runs this town (and no, Ross is not one of them and never has been).

What if the person accused had been a pal of Willie Brown?

Interested in the thoughts of the prog-haters on this one.

Posted by tim on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 8:38 pm

John St. Croix of the Ethics [sic] Commission subconsciously lays it out in today's Chronicle concerning critics of the Commission:

"There is a double standard," he said. "If you go after someone that they support, it's an abuse of power, but if you don't go after their political adversaries, you're not doing your job."


St. Croix does both, goes after people who we support, who are not in the "good old boy's network," and doesn't go after our political adversaries who are in the network.

That St. Croix almost exclusively does both can't be a coincidence, can it?

Posted by marcos on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

You would be calling for his head, true?

Posted by D. native on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 10:10 pm

Namely George Gascon, who Ross enjoyed lecturing, hectoring and speaking down to during his time on the BOS. In politics you really should pick and chose your enemies wisely and Ross, who considered himself a genius, made powerful enemies and then put himself in a place where he was weak and his enemies could attack him. That alone shows he's no genius.

Politicians, above all, have to remember that if you're making powerful enemies you better make sure you're above reproach in how you conduct yourself personally and professionally. Don't give your enemies an opening. Follow the advice to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Ross had no friends, alienated his supporters and gave his enemies an opening a mile wide.

Ross failed to play the political game Tim. He forgot he was a politician. He only has himself to blame. If the tables were reversed Ross would have done the same thing. That's how politics are played in this town.

Posted by Troll II on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

Ross also has a history of being an ass hole to those around him, not just his fellow city "leadership."

If you think Ross got "progressive spousal abuse laws in action extra" maybe it was because of his history of shit bag?

I don't really see revenge here, I see more of, Ross is a complete scum bag.

Watching him on cable access, I just see narrow A-hole.

Posted by matlock on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 10:40 pm

That's not zero tolerance.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

New sheriff, new DA, new mayor, we would see the same result.

All these people trying to look like they are doing their job, mixed with Mirkarimi's antics, yes same result/

I don't personally know anyone involved. but...

If I was the mayor I would just wait around for the recall and say it is up to the people. He was elected let the voters make the choice.

If I was the DA I would not look like I was letting Ross get over because he was sheriff, like Ross does at every other turn in his political life.

If I was Ross I would have some humility and shut the fuck up.

Posted by matlock on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 10:21 pm

I don't know how they would respond. I would imagine they would first try to protect their guy and then at a certain point cut their losses.

What I do know is that if gavin newsom or mark farel were in this position I would certainly call on them to resign and they would receive as much coverage as ross has in the guardian, except they would be made out to be total scumbags.

More importantly as progressives, i think it is super immature to claim unfair treatment and point fingers as an excuse for one of our allies behavior. If you think that what was done was acceptable argue that position. But being upset that someone else can get away with something bad when you can't makes it seem like you wish you could. I think that if so called progs have ethics than they should act ethical and be accountable to their ethos. And the top lawman shouldn't shouldn't try to get out of trouble on swift legal moves and then claim that he can't get a fair shake in his own system. That kind of behavior seems like you are more interested in power than your supposed convictions. Continuing to make these circular straw man arguments also kind of makes us all seem like a bunch of dumb asses.

I really respect Myrna for puting herself out there and adding a new demension to the way people look at this case and our response to dv. I used to work with a population that included many men who had been convicted of domestic violence and sex crimes. Sometimes it seemed like it was a good thing that they had been arrested and (at least temporarily) been removed from their partners. Many other times it seemed like jail may have done more harm than good. And usually I didn't know enough to have an opinion. I agree with Myrna that this particular case did nothing to help the victim because this was an unusual one as ross is public official and while grabbing your wife's arm is wrong, his punishment (mainly outside of court) is brutal.

Now a question for you Tim- is there any realistic scenario that you can see at this point that involves ross remaining as sherif for the next four years?

Posted by NM on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

I'm a progressive who thinks the Bay Guardian goes overboard with its one-size-fits-all machine-vs.-progressive rubric. Do I get to comment? Yes, I think the cops and D.A. would've handled it the same. What evidence do you or anyone have that they wouldn't have?

And you may not be defending Mirkarimi, but a lot of other commenters here are. They're convinced that, no matter the evidence or the lies he, Eliana Lopez and their lawyers tell, he's being persecuted for being a progressive. What do you say to people like Christine Craft and "marcos"?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 8:35 am

1. This is the system progressives wanted.

2. The racialism of your original screed, and it continuing here.

3. Your use of meaningless buzz words.

4. Like many of your ilk, your ego, the "no one is addressing my tough questions"

All of that and more makes your free associating makes you nonsensical and ridiculous to those not indoctrinated in progressive race theory and victimology.

Your screeds so far are just free associated revealed leftist cannards that cover all the bases of your created world.

Posted by Ross Daly Jones on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

So really theonlyway your ideas would really work is if there was a system similar to CPS but for troubled relationships. Sounds like it would be a huge mess.

Posted by D. native on Apr. 02, 2012 @ 10:38 pm

The Mirkarimi's want to be seen as both advocates against DV and against govt intervention against DV. The law probably save Eliana from worse injuries. The maniac aka Ross Mirkarimi would fly into a rage over his wife visiting her home country where her father is fighting cancer? This guy is a bum and deserves this downfall. He has not hit bottom yet.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 8:03 am

Question for everyone: With Lopez and Theo in Venezuela, one presumes Mirkarimi will be moving back into their Webster Street flat. Should Madison, Mertens, and their toddler be worried for their safety?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 8:39 am

I don't understand all the posts about the fire chief. From what I've read, she passed a lie detector test and her husband (or former husband) recanted his statement in writing. In the Mirkarimi case they had a video for god's sake. The state of the evidence in the two matters is different.

Posted by The Commish on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 11:08 am

They want to see a conspiracy but it's nowhere to be seen.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 11:35 am

I guess this is possible....

"...According to a police report, Hayes-White said her husband of 14 years had struck himself in the head with the glass and then called 911."


Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 7:00 pm

Oh thats right the state of the evidence.....

"....According to the computer-assisted dispatch log of the incident that the department released Thursday, two patrol officers were the first to arrive at the house at 6:28 p.m.

The supervising lieutenant at Taraval station, Belinda Kerr, ordered them away at 6:53 p.m. and oversaw the scene herself. It is unclear why, although another police investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision had been made out of "respect" for Hayes-White."


Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

I'm the last one to defend anyone associated with the fire department, but that doesn't explain the lie detector test and the husband recanting his story in writing.

Posted by The Commish on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

I cannot praise enough this post, and the prior one, by Myrna Melgar. Anyone who cannot open their heart to the truths expressed here has a blinding self-interest that will not let them see or even admit the possibility of reform that Myrna is discussing. I could go on but I don't want to provoke anyone. What we need now is all of us, pro and anti, to come together in the true spirit of democracy to reach a good compromise solution. Americans are pragmatic and always have been. It's a big part of our genius as a culture. So let's put our heads together, all of us, and see what we can come up with by exercising a little good will. Nothing in life is black and white, and if we are continually caught up in the dualism of absolutes we will get nowhere.

Posted by barry eisenberg on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 12:59 pm

zero-tolerance approach to DV. But that is not a San Francisco thing, or even a California thing. All States handle it the same way, with the support and blessing of the federal government, who provide municipalities with money to treat DV in this way.

That is why even a "powerful" white male LE chief could not get away with DV. Experience, and in many cases, tragedies, over many decades have led to that zero-tolerance policy and the fact that it occasionally catches out someone who you feel politically aligned with does not mean it's the wrong strategy or policy.

If even powerful white men can't escape facing justice, then the policy is working as it should.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

"I am pointing out that for many, having the police automatically open a criminal investigation, regardless of the nature of the problem, which is then followed by prosecution, is a strong deterrent to seeking help".

Once a crime is committed it needs to be investigated and prosecuted. That's why I reported Melgar's acts and ommissions that I beleive are probably indicative of criminal perjury and embezzlement to the police last year who referred it to the DA.

To bad the police and the DA have to again take a beating from Melgar when they may be cutting her a lot of slack in terms of my charges

Posted by roflynn on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

Myrna, thank you for your very thoughtful and educational piece. I see now that sometimes going to the police means a person accused of domestic violence -- or one who pleads guilty to false imprisonment -- could risk losing his or her job. That is not the outcome that we want. We want people to recover from whatever emotional issues they have that are driving them to project so much emotional, and possibly physical violence, on the people closest to them.

I voted for Mirkarimi but without enthusiasm. I know all about his anger management issues. As soon as I found out about the incident with his wife, I regretted my vote. There are so many people posting on this website and others about the bruise, down playing the bruise and saying one bruise is not indicative of domestic violence. That could be true. But the following IS domestic violence (quoting Myrna): "... the putdowns, the sarcasm, the psychological and emotional abuse ..."

This kind of verbal violence -- including rages -- that Ross Mirkarimi is well-known for in City Hall is its own kind of DV and while it does not leave marks and doesn't do physical damage or kill, and its perpetrators don't risk criminal prosecution, it does do damage. It kills self-esteem and destroys the soul and renders its victims traumatized, isolated, and poorly socialized.

What Eliana is going through now is hell. Many posters here presume that Eliana is Ross's equal, but I don't think she is -- she herself told the Chronicle when Ross pleaded guilty that his job as sheriff was her only source of income. She seems to be Everywoman, trapped, for economic and immigration reasons, in a bad relationship with a small dependent child and no good way out (she is supposed to return to the United States at the end of April, and I wonder what the legal implications will be if she does not, choosing instead to stay in Venezuela and keep her son with her). My heart goes out to her.

As to Ivory Madison and the videotape, if it were you that Eliana had gone to, you too would be wondering what you should do and if you should tell authorities and you would be asking around, seeking advice.

As to Ross Mirkarimi, as much as I would like for there to be some way for couples to find ways to fix their problems without the police being involved -- the way that Myrna is saying would be preferable -- I don't think it would have happened in Mirkarimi's case because of his extreme arrogance.

Still, he deserves due process and has the right to fight his suspension -- and to try to keep his job (after all, as others have pointed out, what kind of message does it send to people suffering from DV that if you go to the authorities, your spouse will lose his or her job?). I support him in this fight, and, if he is not suspended and there is a recall, I will decide whether or not to sign the recall petition based on what Mirkarimi and his probation officer tell the public about his progress in managing his anger.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

officer says", please bear in mind that if Ross is that probation officer's boss, and is deciding his raises, roster etc., then how much can you trust it?

That's exactly the reason Lee fired Ross. How can Ross be the boss of the probation service when he is under probation? It's a massive conflict of interest.

Maybe if Ross were Muni chief or DBI chief, it could work. But you can't have a guy admitting to being guilty of false imprisonment in charge of the prisons.

You are right that as soon as Eliana realised Ross's salary would go away, she clammed up. She needs that money and, presumably, that alimony when they divorce.

But I don't see how the DV system can work any other way. Eliana is better off broke than dead.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 5:46 pm