Whether a case can be made to suspend Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office under the “official misconduct” section of the City Charter has developed into a game of political hot potato between City Hall and the District Attorney’s Office.
Mirkarimi pleaded guilty last week to a charge of false imprisonment of his wife, Eliana Lopez, in exchange for dismissal of three charges related to a New Year’s Eve clash at their home.
Mayor Ed Lee is expected to address the sheriff’s future today, following his Monday sentencing. If the mayor wants to begin removal proceedings for Mirkarimi, he would have to build a case that would be heard by The City’s Ethics Commission and eventually need support from nine of 11 members on the Board of Supervisors.
Yet DA George Gascón is declining to release Lopez’s videotaped account of the incident, which was to be the key piece of evidence in the case. Although still pictures and written excerpts from the video came out as the case took its course, the full extent of Lopez’s tearful statement to a neighbor has not been aired publicly.
Seeking to distance himself from the political rancor, Gascón released a statement Monday saying the evidence will be treated as any other, even though the case’s outcome may have disappointed “ideologues on both sides” — an apparent reference to galvanizing forces both for and against the sheriff.
“Our responsibility is to the criminal process,” Gascón said. “Whatever other people have to do — and the political consequences of that — are somebody else’s responsibility.”
Mirkarimi met with Lee Monday afternoon in the Mayor’s Office. After a 20-minute talk, he left via a side door, and declined to comment once back at his office. The Mayor’s Office also declined to discuss the conversation.
Since the beginning of the case, Lee has called the case troubling and “distracting” to smooth operation of the Sheriff’s Department. Elected in November to a four-year term as sheriff, Mirkarimi underwent an awkward Jan. 8 inauguration with the criminal charges looming.
Although Lee asked Mirkarimi later in January if he would consider taking a voluntary leave during the case, the mayor said he would refrain from pursuing further action until the conclusion of the proceedings. That time has come, and Mirkarimi is showing no signs that he’ll step down, instead saying he intends to commit himself to becoming a “better public servant, one you can be proud of.”
Political consultant Jim Ross said that while suspension of the progressive sheriff might seem like a simple choice for the moderate mayor, such decisions are never easy.
“If you do it, it’s going to be a big fight and it’s going to give many people on the left an opportunity to rally behind Ross and say this was all politically motivated,” Ross said. “Even if you win, it hurts. You’re going to take some punches.”