Supes Vote To Let Mirkarimi Stay As Sheriff; Mayor Expresses Disappointment

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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.

 

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