SF sheriff: No conflicts in domestic violence case

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After about two weeks back on the job, San Francisco's sheriff said he is humbled and ashamed of the domestic violence case that ended in his criminal conviction and nearly forced him out of office.

But Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said he would not accede to demands by the district attorney and the mayor that he recuse himself from domestic-violence-related programs in the county's jails.

The sheriff said he feels he has no conflicts of interest, although he is serving three years of probation for a conviction stemming from a New Year's Eve argument with his wife, Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez.

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Mirkarimi acknowledged the nearly 10-month fight for his job created deep divisions in the city, but he said he is optimistic he can work with the district attorney who prosecuted him and the mayor who tried to oust him.

The sheriff also called his reinstatement more "bittersweet" than "vindication."

"I'm truly grateful and thankful, and I forever will be that humbled servant that has this opportunity to show why I was elected sheriff in the first place," said Mirkarimi, who was reinstated earlier this month on a split vote of the Board of Supervisors.

Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi in March after the sheriff pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge related to his domestic dispute. Lee then tried to remove him permanently by filing official misconduct charges.

On Oct 10, despite calls by anti-domestic violence advocates for Mirkarimi's removal, a vote by the board fell short of the number needed to do that. Hundreds of Mirkarimi supporters attending the meeting cheered the outcome.

Still, the sheriff's misconduct was lambasted, even by the four fellow progressives who saved his job.

"The supervisors had some very astute things to say, some of it was even hard for me to hear," Mirkarimi said. "But I listened closely to it all and take it with me as a compass point on how to proceed as sheriff and as a man, as a father, and as a husband."

District Attorney George Gascon has publicly called on Mirkarimi to recuse himself from the duties in his office that relate to custody, supervision, safety and rehabilitation in domestic violence cases.

Mirkarimi responded to Gascon in a letter stating those programs are led by a command chain of highly experienced members of his department.

"We do not anticipate any conflict of interest that implicates me or any member of our department in conjunction with program direction or outcome," Mirkarimi wrote. "In the event a potential conflict arises, steps will be taken to ensure that program integrity remains uncompromised."

In an attempt to mend fences within the city, Mirkarimi also sent a letter to the mayor urging reconciliation for the city's sake and asked for his help in reaching out and repairing partnerships, especially within the anti-domestic violence community.

"I feel the same as it pained me, like you, that the experience of the last many months has not been easy on anyone, and for that, I apologize," Mirkarimi wrote.

Lee has not responded, the sheriff said.

Mirkarimi's case unfolded from a Dec. 31 argument with Lopez over whether she could travel to her native Venezuela with their toddler son. During the dispute, Mirkarimi grabbed and bruised Lopez's arm.

Lopez turned to a neighbor who later contacted police after videotaping Lopez's tearful account of the incident.

When Mirkarimi appeared at his Jan. 8 swearing-in ceremony with his family, he called the incident a "private matter, a family matter," a remark that touched off criticism from anti-domestic violence groups. Mirkarimi said last week he regrets the comment, saying it came from a statement handed to him by his lawyer.

"It was only because we didn't know what was happening, because we hadn't talked to law enforcement yet," Mirkarimi said. "I absolutely regret that I did not correct that narrative."

Shocked by the fallout from the remark, Mirkarimi said he shut down. "I was ashamed," he said.

The sheriff said he has reunited with his wife and undergoes individual, group and couples counseling.

Workwise, he said he is trying to catch up after missing months. And he said he is seeking redemption for admittedly causing so much division within San Francisco.

"I apologize to the city for any of that," Mirkarimi said.

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