It's been an eventful visit to San Francisco this week for Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez, who spent the last two evenings on the witness stand testifying before the Ethics Commission as it considers removing her husband, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, from office for official misconduct for grabbing her arm on Dec. 31. And then today in court, she helped persuade Judge Garrett Wong to lift the stay-away order that has barred the couple from having any contact with each other since January, allowing this battle-weary couple to finally share an much-needed embrace.
Lopez didn't want any of this – not the police and prosecutors going after her husband and getting an order to keep her family apart, not Mayor Ed Lee suspending Mirkarimi and taking away the salary the family needed now more than ever (compounding his failure to ask Lopez what really happened by refusing to allow the city to pay for her plane fare back from Venezuela, where she's been staying with family and looking for acting jobs, to testify in his proceedings), not the hypocritical statements of concern that she's been victimized, made by people who she considers to be the real abusers of her and her family.
Her perspective on this whole sordid affair became crystal clear while spending more than three hours on the stand being grilled by Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith and the commissioners, where she said that she's never been scared of Mirkarimi but that San Francisco has become a scary place to her after being betrayed and victimized by the people entrusted to help her.
“At this point, I think he's safer in Venezuela than San Francisco,” Lopez said of her three-year-old son when Keith condescendingly asked about how he's doing in her home country. Keith's belittling tone toward this supposed crime victim prompted Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp to tell reporters, “The questioning of Ms. Lopez, so far, I think is just offensive.”
Clearly, some of Lopez's decisions helped create this mess. She said on the stand that she regrets telling her neighbors Callie Williams and Ivory Madison what happened on Dec. 31, even if she believes they should have kept her confidence as they promised. And there are good legal reasons why domestic violence victims shouldn't be able to stop the prosecutions of their abusers, who they may still be scared to offend.
But none of that excuses the complete disregard for Lopez, her perspective, and her interests that has been shown by San Francisco's law enforcement, political, and domestic violence advocacy communities – a point that Mirkarimi supporters have repeatedly made throughout the proceedings, emphasizing that they believe and support Lopez.
“I didn't expect that my lawyer could call the police on her own,” Lopez said of Madison, whom she said had represented herself as a legal adviser who was helping her create evidence for a child custody case if her marital problems ended in divorce. “I thought that was my decision.”
Once Madison took a more aggressive posture in urging Lopez to go the police, including “calling Ross's political enemies” to help her bring him down, Lopez testified, “I realized that I couldn't trust her.” But it was too late. As soon as Lopez clearly said that she didn't want police involvement, that was when Madison called them.
“I told her, 'you don't have my permission to do this. I trusted you,'” Lopez said she told Madison after being told the police were on the way, sending Lopez into a panic. “When I left Ivory Madison's house, I was so shaking I couldn't find my car...I was feeling betrayed and I was so angry.”
Toward the end of her testimony, she said, “After Ivory Madison called the police, I felt betrayed, I felt like I had betrayed Ross.”
Anyone who knows Lopez or watched her on the stand understands that this is a strong woman who is used to taking care of herself, not a shattered domestic violence victim incapable of acting on her own behalf.
“I said we have to think, Ross, we have to do something,” Lopez testified, explaining her reaction to the police involvement and her text message to “use your power” to do something, which Mirkarimi replied to by saying there was nothing he could do at that point, despite unproven accusations that he tried to dissuade witnesses and thwart the investigation. “It was me who was pushing him.”
Even after the controversy went public and threatened his career, Lopez said it her who told him not to resign and to fight for his job. “I told him, 'you won the election, stay strong, we can win this,” she testified.
Nobody wants to minimize domestic violence, but let's keep some perspective on what happened here. Lee may or may not really believe that Mirkarimi “beats his wife,” as he told reporters in justifying his overreaction, but the evidence that has emerged doesn't dispute the consistent contention by Mirkarimi and Lopez that he grabbed her arm one time, for one moment, and that was the full extend of the abuse.
“I bruise really easily,” Lopez testified. “Just Theo playing with me, I get bruised.”
Some people do. And while that doesn't excuse what Mirkarimi did – getting physical with a partner is never okay, as he said on the stand, accepting his fate – it does indicate that perhaps Mirkarimi's critics have lost their perspective, sense of proportion, and realization that domestic violence laws are supposed to be about helping and protecting the victim.
Does anyone even want to try to make an argument that's what's happened in this case?