San Francisco Bay Area Wednesday Morning News Roundup

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Mirkarimi To Be Reinstated As Sheriff With Support Of Four Supervisors

Ross Mirkarimi will be reinstated as San Francisco's sheriff after the city's Board of Supervisors fell two votes short of upholding official misconduct charges against him Tuesday night.

The 11-member board needed nine votes to approve the permanent removal of Mirkarimi from office, but David Campos, John Avalos, Jane Kim and Christina Olague declined to uphold the charges.

The 7-4 vote comes after several months of legal wrangling that began when Mirkarimi was suspended without pay by Mayor Ed Lee in March following his guilty plea to misdemeanor false imprisonment in connection with a Dec. 31 incident in which he grabbed his wife's arm during an argument, causing a bruise.

"It's been a long and crazy road, not just for our family but the family of San Francisco," Mirkarimi said after the hearing.

The mayor issued a statement late Tuesday night expressing disappointment with the board's vote.

"I strongly disagree with the action taken by Supervisors Avalos, Campos, Kim and Olague," Lee said.

Olague had been appointed by the mayor to replace Mirkarimi after he was elected sheriff last November and took office in January.

"The board's decision returns a convicted domestic batterer to lead the sheriff's office, and I am concerned about our city's nationally-recognized domestic violence programs," Lee said. "I will do everything in my power to ensure that abusers continue to be held accountable."

Mirkarimi said that while he thought the mayor "went too far" in suspending him, he said "on behalf of the people, the right thing to do is to mend fences."

Mirkarimi said he will talk to top sheriff's officials in the morning about transitioning back as the head of the department. His attorneys also noted he will receive back pay for the entire period he was suspended.

Vicki Hennessy had been appointed by the mayor as interim sheriff after Mirkarimi's suspension.

The San Francisco Sheriff's Managers & Supervisors Association issued a statement Tuesday night saying they respect the supervisors' decision and that it is time for the department "to move beyond this difficult period and refocus on our longstanding record of innovative service to the community."

Hundreds of people came to City Hall for the hours-long hearing, forcing authorities to open multiple overflow rooms to accommodate the crowds.

A majority of the speakers who talked to the board during the public comment portion of the proceedings supported Mirkarimi, while others spoke against the sheriff, including domestic violence victim advocates who had also held a rally outside City Hall on Monday urging the supervisors to remove him from office.

Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser, representing the mayor, told the supervisors that the fact that the sheriff oversees domestic violence programs and works with the city's probation department conflicts with his being sentenced to a year of domestic violence counseling and three years' probation as part of his plea deal.

Under questioning from some of the supervisors, Kaiser acknowledged that suspending the sheriff was "a discretionary decision" and "at bottom a judgment call," but that law enforcement officers "are expected to enforce the law, not to break it."

A majority of the supervisors agreed, including Sean Elsbernd who said Mirkarimi "violated that trust" given to top law enforcement officials.

But the dissenting supervisors ultimately took issue with the discretionary nature of the mayor's decision, including Avalos who said he thought the case was "convoluted from a legal point of view."

The case had been sent to the board by the city's Ethics Commission, which was tasked with holding fact-finding hearings and making a recommendation in the case.

In August, the panel voted 4-1 in favor of upholding the charges, and commission chair Benedict Hur gave a presentation to the board at the start of Tuesday's hearing outlining what led to their vote.

Hur said the commission made its ruling on the basis of the physical abuse, which it found to fall below the standards of decency expected of an elected official as laid out in the official misconduct clause in the city charter.

Hur was the lone commissioner to vote against the majority, saying today that "there must be a line between official misconduct and personal misconduct" and that he thought there was not a close enough nexus between the case and Mirkarimi's duties as sheriff.

Prosecutors Say Oakland Officer Who Killed Youth Won't Be Charged

The Oakland police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Alan Blueford during a foot chase in May won't face criminal charges because the Alameda County District Attorney's Office has determined that the shooting was justified.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Kenneth Misfud said in an 18-page report completed last week and made public Tuesday that Officer Miguel Masso "had probable cause to believe that Mr. Blueford posed a threat of serious harm to him and to others present during the incident," including to dozens of people at a family party nearby.

Blueford, who was planning to graduate from Skyline High School in Oakland in June, was fatally shot in the early morning hours of May 6 during a chase near 92nd Avenue and Birch Street in East Oakland.

Blueford's death has led to disruptions at two recent Oakland City Council meetings because his family members and supporters have accused the Oakland Police Department of covering up for Masso and have said the officer wasn't justified in shooting him.

In addition, his family has filed a federal wrongful death suit against Masso and the city of Oakland.

Misfud said in his report that Blueford's failure to submit to Masso's command to stop, combined with the fact that he made no attempt to discard his handgun, "could reasonably be interpreted as a desire and intent to use the handgun against Officer Masso if necessary."

Misfud said Masso fired the first round after Blueford had pulled a handgun out of his waistband and pointed it at the officer.

The prosecutor said Masso then fired a second shot "because he actually and reasonably believed he would be shot and killed" by Blueford" and also fired third and fourth shots because Blueford "was still looking directly at him with the gun in his hand.

Masso was backpedaling while he fired his fourth shot and hit himself in his foot, according to the report. The officer is still recovering from his injury, his attorney, Harry Stern, said Tuesday.

According to the report, Masso, who was hired in Oakland in 2008 after previously working as an officer in Morgan Hill and New York as well as a military police officer for the U.S. Army, told investigators that it was the first time a gun had been pointed at him and it was the first time he thought someone was going to kill him.

"I was scared...It scared the living crap out of me," Masso said, according to the report.

John Burris, an Oakland civil rights attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Blueford's family, said he's "disappointed" in the report's findings and conclusions but it has "no significance" for the lawsuit, which will still go forward, pending further investigation on his part.

Burris said he still believes that Masso "over-reacted" to the situation and wasn't justified in shooting Blueford.

CPUC Requests Suspension Of Public Hearings On PG&E Fines For San Bruno Explosion

Public hearings to determine how much money PG&E will be fined for safety violations that led to San Bruno's 2010 deadly pipeline explosion have been temporarily suspended.

The California Public Utilities Commission on Friday afternoon filed a motion requesting that the hearings be suspended until Nov. 1, giving the state regulator and PG&E a chance to proceed with "good-faith negotiations" toward a monetary settlement in private.

"This is the big fine," said Assemblyman Jerry Hill, whose district includes San Bruno. "It could be anywhere between $200 million and $2 billion."

According to the motion, the suspension would give the CPUC and PG&E "time and space in the participants' schedules to allow negotiations to proceed unimpeded with the distraction of ongoing litigation."

Hill rebuffed the assertion that private negotiations would give the parties more time and said the late-filed motion was an attempt by the CPUC and PG&E to keep crucial information about the explosion that killed eight people behind closed doors.

"They said they don't have time," Hill said. "There are eight people in San Bruno that have no time anymore."

Hill said that allowing the private negotiations would be an affront to the public process and especially the people of San Bruno, where PG&E's lack of operational oversight of its own aging infrastructure led to the explosion that killed eight residents and destroyed 38 homes.

"How can you settle a case before you have all of the information out in the open?" Hill said.

PG&E did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An administrative law judge for the CPUC is scheduled to decide next week whether public hearings will be suspended until Nov. 1.

Some Calistoga Residents Asked To Evacuate Prior To Hazardous Substance Detonation

Authorities safely detonated a volatile and dangerous crate of decades-old ether in "one shot" at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga Tuesday afternoon, a Napa County sheriff's captain said.

At about 12:30 p.m., Calistoga residents heard a loud explosion when the 96 quarter-pound canisters of highly explosive ether were detonated using a counter-charge, Capt. Tracey Stuart said.

The ether was found in a wooden crate at the fairgrounds on Monday during a hazardous materials collection event, Calistoga police said.

The crate was marked that it was packaged in March 1957, and sheriff's officials said it was originally part of a stash of disaster supplies for a 200-bed hospital and had been stored at the fairgrounds for decades.

Stuart said authorities were lucky they could move the ether to an unpopulated field in the fairgrounds and take care of it in one explosion.

The explosion created "quite an impressive fire ball," which burned off the ether nearly instantaneously, Stuart said.

"You could smell the ether," Stuart said about the explosion. "As soon as it was up, it was gone."

Everything in the area is safe and residents can go about their regular routine, she said.

Stuart had said prior to the explosion that detonating the canisters was the only way to get rid of it.

Sheriff's officials contacted residents of nine nearby homes about 30 minutes prior to the detonation warning them to either evacuate the area or stay inside while the detonation took place, Stuart said. 

Stuart said the explosion left some debris and a one-foot hole in the ground, which fairgrounds staff are cleaning up, she said.

One Sea Lion Safe At Marine Mammal Center, Second One Still Missing

A rescue crew has captured one of two sea lions that were spotted entangled in debris at San Francisco's Pier 39, a Marine Mammal Center spokesman said.

The Marine Mammal Center responded to Pier 39's "K-Dock," the area where sea lions congregate on floating wooden platforms, at about 12:30 p.m., Marine Mammal Center spokesman Jim Oswald said. 

Oswald said it appeared the animals have what looks like fishing line around their necks.

The rescue team successfully deployed a dart with a mild sedative into one of the two sea lions at about 1:50 p.m., Oswald said.

Once the sedative kicked in, the rescue team slowly approached the sea lion, brought it to shore, put it in a rescue carrier and is driving it to the center where a veterinarian will take off the debris wrapped around its neck.

"It's tricky to do," Oswald said of the rescue. "We don't take them lightly."

If the entanglement were more severe, the rescue crew could have opted to take the wire off on site, he said.

As of 4:30 p.m., the sea lion was resting at the center, Oswald said. The entanglement is not considered life-threatening and a veterinarian will remove it tomorrow morning, he said.

The rescue of the second sea lion appears to have become more complicated; the sea lion was scared by a tour boat and has disappeared into the water, Oswald said.

He said crews will wait at the pier to see if it returns. If it does, they will repeat the process used to rescue the first sea lion.

Anyone who spots a marine mammal injured or entangled can call the center at (415) 289-7325.

Suspect Killed In Hayward Officer-Involved Shooting Identified

A suspected car thief who was fatally shot by a Hayward police officer in a confrontation on Friday was identified Tuesday as 21-year-old Mohammed Shah of Hayward.

Hayward police Lt. Roger Keener said Shah had a criminal arrest record that includes an arrest for allegedly stealing a vehicle in a prior incident in early September.

Keener said that at 11:12 a.m. on Friday, a patrol officer who was checking license plates in response to a citizen's report of a speeding vehicle spotted a parked car in a residential area near the intersection of Briergate Way and Vanderbilt Street that he confirmed had been stolen.

According to Sgt. Mark Ormsby, the officer ordered Shah, who was the sole occupant of the green Honda Accord, to show his hands several times but Shah refused to comply.

He said Shah then reached for a weapon inside the stolen car so the officer fired at him, thinking that his life was in danger.

The officer, who was on his own initially, then called for assistance and a second officer arrived and helped him detain and treat Shah, Ormsby said.

Shah was taken to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley where he was later pronounced dead, Ormsby said.

A weapon was found inside the Honda but Shah did not fire it, according to Ormsby.

Hayward police obtained a warrant to search the Honda but Keener declined to disclose the results of the search because the car's owner hasn't yet been contacted so police can clarify which items belonged to the owner and which items might have belonged to Shah.

The vehicle had been stolen from elsewhere in Hayward, Ormsby said.

The shooting occurred near Treewood Elementary School, which was placed on lockdown for about 15 to 20 minutes, he said.

Oakland Leaders Announce Plan To Prevent Home Foreclosures

Oakland leaders Tuesday announced a multi-pronged effort to try to prevent home foreclosures with the help of government, major lenders and community partners.

Speaking at a news conference at City Hall, Mayor Jean Quan said the plan, which will be introduced at the City Council's Community and Economic Development Committee Tuesday and go before the full council next week, is needed because there have been about 10,000 foreclosures in Oakland since the mortgage foreclosure crisis began in 2007 and there are still about 3,500 residents who face foreclosure.

Quan said, "This innovative program will outline a clear path back to a secure mortgage and future, using reputable service providers, through the truly impressive array of tools we now have at hand."

She said the new tools include services and laws that are mandated by California's Homeowner Bill of Rights, which aims to end abusive home lending practices, and the $25 billion paid by the nation's top banks in a settlement with the federal government and 49 state attorneys general over "robo-signing" practices.

Robo-signing is the practice of a bank employee signing thousands of documents and affidavits without verifying the information contained in the documents.

If the program is approved by the City Council, which Quan said she's counting on, the city would send community workers door-to-door to contact the 3,500 residents who face the possibility of foreclosure and the word also will be spread through churches and community groups.

Agencies that specialize in housing issues would then work with homeowners and tenants to help figure out ways to help them stay in their homes.

Quan said there also would be a new loan fund that would set aside up to $1.2 million for a pilot program to help 20 to 25 homeowners avoid foreclosure by resetting their mortgages at the current market value for their property.

San Francisco Bay Area Weather Report

Isolated thunderstorms are expected in the Bay Area this morning.

Highs are likely to be around 60, with southwestern winds up to 15 mph in the afternoon.

Mostly cloudy skies are likely this evening. Lows are expected to be in the lower 50s, with western winds up to 15 mph.

Mostly cloudy skies are expected Thursday morning, becoming partly cloudy later in the day. Highs are likely to be in the upper 50s, with southwest winds up to 15 mph.

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137