New sheriff’s future up in the air after charges 

click to enlarge Tricky position: Despite calls that he step down in the wake of domestic violence charges, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi says he plans to retain his position. - JOSEPH SCHELL/SPECIAL TO THE SF EXAMINER
  • Joseph Schell/Special to the SF Examiner
  • Tricky position: Despite calls that he step down in the wake of domestic violence charges, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi says he plans to retain his position.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has promised to arrive at work Tuesday, despite a possible criminal court arraignment for three misdemeanor charges connected to an alleged domestic violence incident at his home on New Year’s Eve.

And though he has vowed to fight the charges, and promises to continue as sheriff, the decision regarding his career as one of San Francisco’s top law enforcement officials may simply not be decided by him or the courts.

There are a number of external powers that could possibly lead to the removal of Mirkarimi, whether he is ultimately proven guilty or innocent.

On Thursday, anti-domestic violence advocates stood on the steps of City Hall demanding he step down. It was the beginning of what could become a public campaign to force Mirkarimi to step aside during the legal proceedings. District Attorney George Gascón indicated Friday, when he announced the charges, it is possible the alleged New Year’s Eve incident was not an isolated case, which may force a number of City Hall insiders to also pressure the newly elected sheriff to step aside.

In other instances of public-safety misconduct allegations, it is common for the law enforcement official such as police officer or sheriff’s deputy to be placed on nonpublic administrative duty or suspension with pay until the matter is resolved.

Another possibility is a recall effort initiated through a signature-gathering campaign. But no such effort could begin until Mirkarimi has been in office for at least six months, according to the City Charter.

Mayor Ed Lee also has the power to suspend the sheriff under the City Charter for “official misconduct” and initiate removal proceedings.

It is unclear if the circumstances of Mirkarimi’s legal trouble could qualify as official misconduct, but a case could be made it does. Lee issued a statement after Mirkarimi was booked saying he “would review the facts and options available to me under the City Charter.”

The definition of official misconduct in the City Charter includes “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers and including any violation of a specific conflict of interest or governmental ethics law.”

If Lee suspends Mirkarimi, the mayor would have to file written charges against Mirkarimi and appoint a caretaker sheriff. Then the Ethics Commission would hold a hearing and recommend whether to remove and then forward its decision to the Board of Supervisors. It would take at least nine votes by the board to remove Mirkarimi from office. If not, Mirkarimi would then return to his post.

As for a possible recall, once six months have passed, a petition to recall Mirkarimi could be filed with the Department of Elections. It would take signatures from 10 percent of The City’s registered voters — that’s nearly 47,000 as of today — to place the recall on the ballot.

David Latterman, a political analyst at the Leo McCarthy Center at the University of San Francisco, said, “There are three options and two are not good” for Mirkarimi — fighting the charges and being found guilty or pleading a no- contest — and he would “muddle along under a cloud of suspicion.”

“The only way Mirkarimi finishes his term out is innocence,” Latterman said.

Facing charges

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was booked Friday on three misdemeanors:

Charges announced
- Domestic violence battery, for the alleged New Year’s Eve incident
- Child endangerment, for couple’s son witnessing the alleged incident
- Dissuading a witness, for dissuading wife or another person from reporting the abuse or assisting with subsequent investigation

Other details
- Emergency protective order prohibiting Mirkarimi from having contact with his wife and son
- Bail was set at $35,000
- Carries penalty of up to one year in jail and three years’ probation

Source: District Attorney’s Office

The quagmire unfolds

Feb. 22, 2011: Two-term District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi files papers to run for San Francisco sheriff to replace Mike Hennessey, who served as sheriff since 1980.

Nov. 8, 2011: Mirkarimi, whom Hennessey endorsed, wins election with 38 percent of the vote, beating out former cop and Undersheriff Chris Cunnie and sheriff’s Capt. Paul Miyamoto.

Jan. 5, 2012: News emerges that the Police Department is investigating Mirkarimi for alleged domestic violence against his wife on New Year’s Eve.

Jan. 6: Police hand the investigation over to the District Attorney’s Office.

Jan. 7: Mirkarimi is sworn in as sheriff in a private, nighttime ceremony at City Hall.

Jan. 8: Mirkarimi is inaugurated in a public ceremony that several city officials, including the mayor, police chief, district attorney and presiding Superior Court judge decline to attend. Mirkarimi insists he’s never abused his wife and calls the incident “a private matter, a family matter.” His wife says it was “completely taken out of context.”

Jan. 12: Domestic violence groups in The City call for Mirkarimi to either step down until the investigation is complete or resign.

Jan. 13: Mirkarimi charged by prosecutors with domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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