Sheriff Mirkarimi Pleads 'Not Guilty' in Court

Sheriff Mirkarimi Pleads 'Not Guilty' in Court

The San Francisco District Attorney has charged newly elected sheriff Ross Mirkarimi with 3 misdemeanors:  domestic violence battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness. Mr. Mirkarimi should step aside immediately.

The charges stem from a New Year's Eve incident between Mr. Mirkarimi and his wife, Eliana Lopez. Police were called by a neighbor and with a search warrant seized evidence consisting of text messages with Ms. Lopez and a photograph of a bruise on her arm.

Instead of postponing his induction into office, Mr. Mirkarimi trivialized the incident and proceeded with his swearing in ceremony on Sunday, January 8. At this public event, he even joked about the matter and its resulting publicity. Before his election as San Francisco’s first new sheriff in 32 years, Mr. Mirkarimi had served for 7 years on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Regardless of the outcome, Mr. Mirkarimi’s conduct provokes many questions about his understanding of domestic violence and his ability to lead in law enforcement or public office. Among those questions:

  • How does and should the justice system respond to alleged domestic violence by members of law enforcement?

In this instance, the system responded immediately as it should. Is that because Mr. Mirkarimi does not have a law enforcement background and was not popular with law enforcement professionals? Would the system have responded the same to charges against a line officer?

  • How much should ALL public leaders know about domestic and sexual violence and stalking?

Clearly, Mr. Mirkarimi’s actions show that he knew little about domestic violence and the seriousness of potential charges. His characterization of the incident as a private or family matter harkens back to the 1980s when the issue was not taken seriously. Yet before his election as sheriff in November 2011, Mr. Mirkarimi served for 7 years on the city’s highest elected governing body; during that time San Francisco experienced a number of highly publicized domestic violence fatalities and the local domestic violence community maintains strong relationships with public officials who take an interest in the issue.

  • Can a community’s high-level law enforcement executive continue to lead after his or her personal conduct results in criminal charges of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking?

Mr. Mirkarimi’s conduct raises many issues concerning his ability to lead a staff of some 1,000 professionals in running the county jails, serving warrants for violators of court orders, providing security in courts and other public venues, and conducting state-of-the-art violence prevention programs including batterers intervention for inmates and parolees. Until the charges are resolved, he does not have the creditability to continue in this position. 

  • Is the alleged victim of a high profile law enforcement official any different from other victims?

Ms. Lopez publicly denies the matter was significant and does not wish to participate in the criminal proceedings. She watched silently as local domestic violence advocates demonstrated recently against Mr. Mirkarimi. Does public scrutiny provide an extra measure of protection to high profile victims? How much do we as outsiders know about any vicitm’s safety?

  • If the leader is found innocent or convicted of a lesser crime, what can he or she do if anything to restore confidence in leadership on these serious issues?

A public leader who renounces violence, accepts the seriousness of domestic and sexual violence and stalking, and collaborates with advocates could make significant contributions to ending and preventing these complex social problems.

  • What standard of conduct, personal and professional, is expected of our public leaders?

This is the ultimate question in any community. Should the voters elect any official who engages in violent conduct against an intimate partner or any person?

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