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Ethics inquiry begins for suspended San Francisco sheriff
SAN FRANCISCO |
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A city ethics panel was set to open hearings on Tuesday on the question of whether embattled San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, suspended after his conviction in a spousal-abuse case, should permanently lose his job.
Mayor Ed Lee placed Mirkarimi on leave without pay and initiated misconduct proceedings to remove him from office in March, a day after the city's top elected lawman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawfully restraining his wife.
Mirkarimi, who was sentenced to a day in jail and three years of probation, has filed suit seeking reinstatement to his post and his salary. He claims he cannot be removed for official misconduct because the offense in question occurred more than a week before he took office as sheriff.
The case against Mirkarimi, 50, grew out of a New Year's Eve quarrel with his wife, Venezuelan soap opera actress Eliana Lopez, that the couple carried on in front of their young son, Theo, over her plans to take the boy to her home country.
In a home video shot by a neighbor the next day, Lopez tearfully claimed that her husband had grabbed her arm with such force that he left it black and blue. She said it was the second time he had done this.
Lopez later refused to testify against her husband and sought to bar the video from being introduced as evidence against him.
Prosecutors pursued the case nevertheless, and Mirkarimi was charged on January 13, five days after being sworn in as sheriff, with misdemeanor counts of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness.
His deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to a single, lesser charge was structured to allow Mirkarimi to keep his badge and his gun.
But Lee decided Mirkarimi's conduct amounted to a violation of the public trust and his role as a law enforcement officer.
"It's the mayor's view that a sheriff who has committed an act of domestic violence, has been convicted of an act of domestic violence ... has fallen below the standard of a sheriff," Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith told Reuters.
In addition to citing Mirkarimi's conviction, the mayor's complaint against the sheriff cites allegations that he sought to impede the original police investigation by trying to dissuade witnesses from coming forward.
Mirkarimi denies trying to dissuade a witness. His lawyers argue the mayor has overstepped his authority by seeking Mirkarimi's removal through a public ethics investigation.
"If Mayor Lee really thinks that Sheriff Mirkarimi's actions have rendered him unfit to be sheriff, there's a democratic response - and that's the recall," said Shepard Kopp, one of Mirkarimi's attorneys.
He said Mirkarimi would testify on his own behalf. Michael Hennessey, San Francisco's sheriff from 1980 until this year, may also testify. Lopez has been in Venezuela with their 3-year-old son for the past three months.
In a written declaration, Hennessey said more than one San Francisco deputy sheriff has been arrested on domestic-violence or child-endangerment charges in the past and kept their jobs.
The ethics panel will render a recommendation on the case, but the Board of Supervisors will ultimately decide whether to strip the sheriff of his badge. Before he was elected sheriff, Mirkarimi served nearly two terms on the 11-member board.
Three of the five ethics commissioners are appointees of the same officials - the mayor, the district attorney and the city attorney - who brought charges against the sheriff.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Gary Hill)
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