Mirkarimi claims Lee didn't care what really happened

Ross Mirkarimi is beginning to tell his story after months of resistance to giving a full accounting of what happened.
Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal

UPDATED BELOW Did Mayor Ed Lee ask Ross Mirkarimi what really happened in the conflict with his wife before removing him as sheriff? That question is not only important to understanding Lee and whether he was interested in the truth, but it could also be central to next week's court hearing on whether Mirkarimi was denied due process before being suspended without pay.

In an interview published today in the New York Times, and in statements made today to the Guardian, Mirkarimi maintains that he sought to tell Lee the full story but that the mayor wasn't interested. “He was clear that he was not interested in events or details, which were represented by me, even when I encouraged him,” Mirkarimi told The Bay Citizen, whose content the Times runs. “It was more than one occasion I offered to tell him my side of the story. If I had, it could have dramatically changed the mayor’s understanding of the situation.”

Yet the affidavit by Lee that was submitted to the court this week – which is written under penalty of perjury – paints a very different picture: one of the two men sitting in uncomfortable silence rather than Mirkarimi seizing the chance to shape Lee's understanding of the situation.

“I asked Sheriff Mirkarimi to meet with me, because I felt that I needed to hear from him and consider what he had to say,” Lee wrote of the March 19 meeting where he gave Mirkarimi 24 hours to resign or be suspended, noting that he had reviewed the court records and “it appeared to me that he had engaged in official misconduct.”

“I explained to Sheriff Mirkarimi that I wanted to give him an opportunity to talk to me about this issue. It was a free flowing conversation with no time constraints. Sheriff Mirkarimi told me that he has not yet told his side of the story. I said, Okay, and waited for him to tell me his side of the story. He did not. Instead, after pausing, he asked me whether the suspension was based on his conduct as Sheriff. I responded that it was based on his conduct as a public official. I paused again and waited for Sheriff Mirkarimi to give me whatever information he thought important. He did not. Instead, Sheriff Mirkarimi asked me whether the suspension would be with or without pay. I told him it would be without pay. After giving him another chance to ask questions or give more information, I told Mr. Mirkarimi to consider my instruction to resign over the next 24 hours,” Lee wrote.

In an exchange of text messages with the Guardian, Mirkarimi maintains that Lee wasn't interested in hearing from him or his wife, Eliana Lopez, what happened during the New Year's Eve altercation or in its aftermath.

“On more than one occasion I offered details to Lee. He was either mute or changed the subject. Think about it – why else would they have DHR Miki Callahan [the city's deputy human resources director] try to depose me after I was suspended without pay – they shoot first, then realize they better ask questions,” Mirkarimi wrote.

We asked why he didn't use the opportunity of his meeting with Lee to tell his story.

“As I said, I did try. More than once. He wasn't interested. In fact I told him how painful it's been to not have contact [with Lopez, whom the court has barred him from contacting] since January 13, and encouraged him to get an independent account from my wife, Eliana; offered her phone number. Lee didn't take it,” Mirkarimi said.

Paula Canny, Lopez's attorney, has also said that Lee never tried to reach her and didn't seem interested in what really happened. But the city's official misconduct complaint makes a number of unsubstantiated allegations about that incident and what happened since that Mirkarimi and Lopez deny.

For example, the complaint claims that Mirkarimi “or his agents” asked Ivory Madison, the neighbor who helped Lopez make a videotape of her showing a bruise on her arm inflicted by Mirkarimi, to “destroy evidence,” a charge her husband, Abraham Mertens, made in a Chronicle op-ed. But in her own subsequent op-ed, Lopez says that wasn't true and that Mirkarimi wasn't even aware of the existence of the tape until after Madison had called the police and told them about it.

In the Times article, Mirkarimi also disputed another key allegation from the formal charges against him: “Sheriff Mirkarimi misused his office, and the status and authority it carries, for personal advantage when he stated to Ms. Lopez that he could win custody of their child because he was very powerful.”

That allegation also came from Madison, who hasn't responded to calls from the Guardian, the Times, or other media outlets. But Mirkarimi told the Times that what he really told his wife was that California has “powerful” child custody laws that would make it difficult for her to take their son back to Venezuela if they divorced.

“I never said, ever, that I’m a powerful person,” he said. “It’s not even my style. I was quoting in the context of what had been a very familiar and painful reminder that, six months earlier, Eliana had been out of the country with Theo for two and a half months. I was referencing family law.”

Other news broken in the Times story was Mirkarimi disputing that he called the case a “private matter, a family matter,” saying that statement that so outraged domestic violence groups was “distorted by the press.” The article also quotes journalist Phil Bronstein minimizing the phone conversation he had with Madison before she decided to report the Mirkarimi-Lopez incident to the police, saying he only helped Madison contact “three people who Ross was close to” for reasons that weren't clear. Bronstein, who hasn't returned our calls on the issue [SEE UPDATE BELOW], was on the witness list for Mirkarimi's domestic violence trial before Mirkarimi pled guilty to the lesser charge of false imprisonment.

The City Attorney's Office isn't commenting on the case, and when we asked the mayor's Press Secretary Christine Falvey why Lee didn't seek an account of what happened from Lopez or Mirkarimi, she told us simply, “The Mayor met with Ross Mirkarimi twice to discuss this.”

In the city's response to Mirkarimi's lawsuit seeking reinstatement of his pay and position until the official conduct hearings are resolved, which will be heard in Superior Court on April 20, they claim, “The Mayor met personally with Petitioner to discuss his intentions and has repeatedly invited Petitioner to tell his side of the story, an invitation Petitioner has repeatedly declined. But even more fundamentally, the due process claim fails as a matter of law. The constitutional right to due process is triggered only when the government works a deprivation of a legally recognized liberty or property interest.”

The city says caselaw is clear that elected officials can't claim their office belongs to them. “A public office is always a public trust,” the city argues. But Mirkarimi's attorneys say all employees have a clear property interest in their salaries, and they say it was illegal, coercive, and unfair to deprive Mirkarimi of his while he goes through the months-long official misconduct process. Police officers are almost always paid during their suspensions.

UPDATE 4/16: The message that I left for Bronstein seeking to speak with him about his conversation with Madison was nearly two weeks ago, and he called to take issue with my statement that he didn't call back and with my characterization that he "minimized" his conversation with Madison in the New York Times article, although he did characterize their conversation as brief and fairly insignificant.

"Ivory Madison called me to say there were three people that Ross trusts and Eliana might want to get ahold of them, do you have their contact information, and I said I could probably get it," Bronstein told us, noting that he never contacted any of them on her behalf. Sources tell us the three people were Aaron Peskin, Art Agnos, and Michael Hennessey. "No one was contacted, no information was passed, that was the extent of the conversation."

Bronstein left those comments in a voicemail. I'm still waiting to talk to him about whether the conversation included talk of the incident and whether police should be involved, and I'll update this post when I hear back.


Mike Hennesey took pride in the extent to which he employed those with priors with intent to rehabilitate and redeem. Nobody had a problem with that just like nobody's hair caught on fire when Joanne Hayes-White beaned her husband twice, at least nobody's hair caught on fire but her husband's.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 6:26 am

It is inappropriate for someone currently on probation for a DV related crime to be a sworn law enforcement officer. Simple as that.

I would try to debate your, again on the merits of the Fire Chief's alleged thing, but you will believe what you want to believe whether or not there is a basis in facts.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 7:04 am

Ross so-called election win was a fraud because the voters did not know at the time that he had a violent disposition. It is clear that Ross would and could never have won an election had the truth been public, and so he has no mandate or legitimacy any more.

Moreover, he has no credibility or respect from those who he supposedly still claims to manage. Ross is a busted flush - give it up.

Posted by Anonymous on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 5:43 am

look, when this first happened, did Ross go on leave? did he recuse himself? every other peace officer and official steps back and awaits their fate, usually to be reinstated. but Ross figures he's above all of this, he's elected sheriff, therefore he doesn't have to do what the plebs do - right? doesn't matter whether you support him or not, the dude didn't do what he should have done because he didn't want to. all other arguments are b.s. compared to that.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

alienated so many people, as much as his culpability for his crimes.

He appeared to most people to genuinely believe he was above the law. And that makes him unsuited to a senior position in law enforcement.

To be frank, I don't know why he ever wanted the job in the first place. But the end result appears appropriate.

Posted by Anonymous on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

Ross was not sheriff when this attorney Madison reported him to the police.
It was not official, and his wife Lopez says Ross is innocent.
The secret ruling class Media cabal is attempting to overturn this election, just like they did against Al Gore in Florida, to elect Bush.
We live in a dictatorship.
YouTube. Paul8kangas

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

Ross is being forced out of office by the same people that brought us Bush v. Gore. Classic.

I also love that your main argument is that he abused his wife PRIOR to taking the oath of office. Nice.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

Ross being out of work and broke, because she intends to take him to the cleaners in a "bruising" divorce battle.

Posted by Anonymous on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

Eliana got the bruise because she has Post Partum psychosis....Scurvy.
What is the main symptom of scurvy....bruising at the slightest touch..
Ask my wife.
YouTube. Paul8kangas

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

I've waited and watched this entire situation with Ross unfold, for a long time unsure about how I felt. To me, several things stand out:

1) Any suggestion that Ross' situation was not politically motivated is just untrue. From the very beginning, there were more leaks coming out of the SFPD and DA's office than I've ever seen. The press received information it never should have had on multiple occasions so that Ross' case would be tainted from the start.

2) Any suggestion that the neighbor and Bronstein didn't play fast and loose with information is untrue. I believe Eliana when she says she believed she was speaking to Ivory Madison in confidence, and never would have spoken to her if she thought Ivory would turn it over to SFPD. Rather than clarify what her role to Eliana, she unilaterally decided to do what she wanted with this information, including sharing it with Bronstein. Real ethical, that one.

3) I abhor domestic violence, and don't have much tolerance for those who whimper apologies after the fact. And I also know that abused women can sometimes support their partners. These two points are what kept me watching and waiting for a long time. But then I read Myrna Melgar's and Eliana's own editorials. I believe Eliana is not under a misguided need to "stand by her man" but has a very different story than the one so many have decided MUST be the case. I believe Ross has an anger management problem that he needs to deal with, but while some do, I don't equate yelling with abuse. Did he bruise her arm? I believe he probably did unwittingly.

4) Suggestions that Ross has no credibility because he pled guilty fly in the face of reality. Every day in every criminal court in this country, attorneys suggest that their client might accept a plea bargain instead of taking the chance of getting a guilty verdict with a long sentence. How many thousands if not hundreds of thousands of defendants have been innocent but chose not to tempt fate? The decision whether to plead out or go long is based on so many factors, and is individual for each person. That Ross made his own decision for his own reasons hardly means he's lost credibility. It likely means he's trying to put an end to this political insanity.

5) I have no idea what happened between Lee and Mirkarimi. However, I think Lee showed himself to be willing to indulge in political game-playing when he jumped into the fray. No one would have suggested he was remiss for not using this little-known procedure. But so many of his political benefactors, starting with the SFPOA , are ecstatic about it. How exactly does the City benefit from continuing this? After not supporting Lee for mayor, I had begun respecting his ethics; I no longer feel that way about him.

Posted by MM007 on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

But I have already disputed everything in other posts. No need to rehash everything. But this is a new one:

"No one would have suggested he was remiss for not using this little-known procedure."

Please, within days after Ross was charged Ed Lee was be asked why he didn't use this power to suspend him. Are you trying to suggest that since it hasn't been used much, no one would have realized he could do it? Once Ross actually made his plea, there was even more questions asked of Ed Lee about suspension. To his credit, Lee waited until the matter was resolved criminally.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

"Guest" has already debunked all your points, blah blah blah. I will agree with "Guest" that the tweaks who go rabid when given the chance to attack anyone even slightly left wing would have attacked Lee for not acting. They have no intellectual integrity anyway and that's why.

The removal process needs to be rethought and the power should not reside solely in the hands of the mayor. (If I recall, the law was originally passed when Willie Brown was mayor and probably many who voted for it did so simply based on their extreme suspicion about his ethics; ironic that he was the one person it would never have applied towards.)

Posted by lillipublicans on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

If 9 out of 11 have to vote to actually throw him out? Since this law seems to be used pretty infrequently, last use was back in the 1970s. I am not seeing it really being abused.

Posted by D. native on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

because you seem ever ready to retailor what you've said in a slightly different though equally false and disputable manner, and when you object to what I've said you do so on the most flimsy bases imaginable.

The power resides solely in the hands of the mayor because only the mayor can suspend an official under the rules. Duh.

Now that power has been exercised in this case PURELY for nake political gain and though the votes won't be there to oust Mirkarimi, political damage was inflicted on the right-thinking side of the political spectrum by the mayor's cheap action.

Posted by lillipublicans on Apr. 19, 2012 @ 10:42 am

Guest, you may have contributed rhetorical barbs to address these issues, but respectfully, I'm not convinced by them. We simply disagree.

It matters little to me whether or not Lee had been asked whether or not he would use this little-known rule. What matters is whether he was willing to stand as a leader or a politician. In a case where there was SO much disagreement as to what happened, for Lee to proceed feels like political gamesmanship.

Before filing his statement, Lee knew that Ross had been harmed in the press. He could see that his family had been completely torn apart, that he was all but homeless, and that he'd need to fight like hell in the next election. Rather than let the pieces come together or not on their own, he decided to turn the knife a little more.

I don't for one minute think the City is better off for Lee's move. Ross has always been a good administrator. Does removing him from office make the City safer? No, not one bit. But it does make the POA and Gascon giddy.

In the absence of any rational reason to proceed with the rule, I believe politics movitivated Lee.

Posted by MM007 on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 3:50 pm

He's lost all credibility, respect and authority. there is no way he can command a force that sees him as a bully and a coward.

Regardless of how guilty he is, and how "political" this may or may not have been, Ross at this point is a busted flush. He cannot serve and his image is in tatters.

So I support Lee, for the good of the populace. Time for everyone to move on.

Posted by Anonymous on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

What this comes down to, it appears, was a marital fight and Eliana wanted ammo in case of a divorce. She had a neighbor who could provide that ammo (videotaped testimony). If that's what it is, and from listening to Ross tonight on KQED's Forum show for almost an hour, which you can listen to here


I believe that's what it was. So this whole drumbeat to kick him out of office sprang from an on-going disagreement the two had been having about her possibly going again to Venezuela with Theo and Ross was scared about what could happen if the two went down there.

There had been kidnappings recently down there and there were other reasons he gave about why he was freaked about her going down there with Theo. Yes he grabbed her too hard it appears but what seems to be the truth is that Eliana's attempt to get ammo backfired on her - with the help apparently of some cops that were gonna get that videotape and go to town big time with it.

If the guy isn't guilty beyond grabbing her arm one time too hard - but not so hard that she had no problem pulling away from it which possibly helped cause the bruise (though of course he can't say that because the dummies here and everywhere would have a fit), then this rush to judgement that the guy should lose everything - his job, his salary, his rep, possibly his marriage - should not stand. What he apparently did - grabbed his wife's arm that may or may not have been the only reason for the bruise - is not enough for all this to happen to him if justice is the rule.

By your logic, "Gore should just give up and give Bush the presidency" because things are resolving quickly. Sorry justice matters and I'd rather have justice than injustice even if it means you and others may be bothered because it's taking too long for things to be resolved.

If those standards were the rule, then what's happened to Ross (assuming what I've said is true and all he's guilty of is grabbing her arm - if someone has some evidence that Ross did more than grab her arm, bring it on but I haven't seen it) would be fair and all one would have to do to bring down one's enemies is have enough cops, and Chron editorial writers, and political opponents of the accused on your side to get punished like one had been convicted fairly.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

You can't blame Ross for fighting his corner. But the bigger issue is whether the city is now best served by having a sheriff who is on probation and who has admitted violent acts? And given that over 70% of city voters polled say he must go, I think there is little question here of what is best for the city.

Posted by Anonymous on Apr. 19, 2012 @ 6:25 am

MMOO7 totally nails it: "Does removing him (Ross) from office make the City any safer? No, not one bit. Bit it does make the POA and Gascon giddy."

All one has to do is read the press from when Ross was Supervisor mandating police foot patrols. The cops hated it, and were quite honest about that. And who was police chief? George Gascon.

Yeah, politics have nothing to do with this. And the Bay Bridge is on auction for five bucks.

I cordially invite anyone who believes otherwise to listen to my story of robbery and assault, after which the SFPD refused to investigate in any way, despite ample evidence.

The SFPD and DA won't admit it, but in SF, CRIME PAYS! BIG TIME!!

Posted by Erika McDonald on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

Welcome to the real world, it is about what the DA can prove.

If the investigators think that a crime can be proven they will press forward.

In the process of doing business I have had cops and investigators openly explain the situation to me, airhead progressives in this city like you makes convictions tough in some cases.

Whatever your crazy story, it doesn't relate to Ross.

Posted by Matlock on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 8:38 pm

"In the process of doing business..."
Might you be this city's Tony Soprano?

Posted by Erika McDonald on Apr. 19, 2012 @ 8:29 am

Remember, every story has two sides. And Ross has finally come forth with his side of the narrative. Read on...


Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

everything he has said from the start has been motivated by his clear intent to avoid any accountibility for his actions?

Ross's word is worthless at this point.

Posted by Anonymous on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

"Why would anyone care about Ross's "version"..."

Well you must care otherwise you wouldn't be on this thread.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 7:26 pm

should listen to Ross's version of the story. Since Ross's "version" is already in the public domain, there would be no point.

What I care about is correcting bad assumptions.

Posted by Anonymous on Apr. 19, 2012 @ 6:26 am

Everything you have said from the start has been motivated by his clear intent to avoid any fair analysis of his actions and those of the DA.

Your word is worthless at this point.

Posted by lillipublicans on Apr. 19, 2012 @ 7:00 am

what's actually happening in the real world, rather than what some segments would like to happen?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 19, 2012 @ 11:07 am

I read the article and then I heard the tape. If any thing this makes him look worse. He fully admits that he grabbed her arm in an attempt to "guide" her back into the car. So basically he tried to keep her from getting out of the car- now that sounds like false imprisonment. He absolutely appears to have an anger issue and he is the last person I want carrying a badge and gun.

Also, not to get all CSI here, but he grabbed her right arm while he was driving and still seat-belted in the car. Seems like a VERy awkward grab, if not an impossible grab. Her left arm would have been the closest arm to him in most scenarios that I can imagine. Not adding up.

Posted by Dnative on Apr. 19, 2012 @ 8:03 am

The false assumptions made and conclusions drawn that are based on those assumptions is pretty amazing. Above, the conclusion drawn is: Ross' side of the story doesn't matter because anything he says lacks credibility. (paraphrase)

Really? You admit you may not have all the facts (Ross' side of the story), but you're willing to condemn him anyway? And because Ross' detractors have done a pretty comprehensive smear job on him, it's okay to let their version stand? All I can say is that I hope you're NEVER on any jury.

It doesn't seem to matter to Ross' detractors on this blog that there have been several miscarriages of justice against him. I'm not suggesting that anyone did anything illegal, but certainly SFPD, the DA, the Chronicle, and the Mayor have bent over backwards to push Ross out. The leaks to the press and media were unprecedented. Ross' story was either in print or on TV regularly, far more than the story was worth. Is this REALLY okay with you? Did Fajitagate ever get that continuous level of coverage? God forbid anyone should taint the innocent police officers!

The cops and DA did a near-perfect job of trying to ruin Ross from the start. Folks that derive their conclusions based on this coverage are condoning the unjust and unethical actions of these "law enforcement officers." Which raises another point. Several on this blog are eager to pillory Ross as unfit to serve as Sheriff, but are completely willing to overlook the many ways and times the remaining law enforcement officers leaked Ross' information in an effort to smear him. Why isn't Lee, the police chief, or the DA calling out that behavior as unacceptable to our system of justice? Where is the demand for professionalism and ethical conduct from all of our law enforcement officers?

Bloggers' zeal for dirt on Ross and a willingness to give credence to smear campaigns irrespective of how unethical that information was provided is bad enough. It's like basing guilt or innocence on a TMZ review. No, I take that back. TMZ doesn't purport to be city officials or law enforcement officers, or esteemed members of the press. It's a John Kerry U-boat or Obama's-not-a-citizen political ploy. "If you hear it often enough, pretty soon you'll believe it's true."

If that's not bad enough, some suggest Ross' side of the story doesn't merit a hearing. Imagine my surprise at the absence of an open mind.

Posted by MM007 on Apr. 19, 2012 @ 8:56 am