Sheriff Mirkarimi pleads guilty to misdemeanor

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San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi leaves court after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment on Monday, March 12, 2012, in San Francisco. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped a domestic violence charge and two other misdemeanor counts stemming from a New Year's Eve incident involving Mirkarimi and his wife Eliana Lopez. (AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, Noah Berger)

The Question

Should Sheriff Mirkarimi resign?

Yes, misdemeanor conviction should be disqualifying
No, it's not a felony

(03-12) 12:37 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi pleaded guilty today to a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment in connection with an incident in which he allegedly inflicted a bruise on his wife.

In exchange, San Francisco prosecutors dropped a domestic violence charge and two other misdemeanor counts filed in January against Mirkarimi, 50. Mirkarimi was still serving on the Board of Supervisors at the time of the New Year's Eve incident inside the couple's Western Addition home. He was sworn in as sheriff about a week later.

Under the plea agreement, Mirkarimi will be sentenced next Monday to three years' probation, one year of anger management counseling, parenting classes, 100 hours of community service and fines nearing $600.And he will be allowed to remain sheriff - at least for now.

In a brief appearance in Superior Court before Judge James Collins, Mirkarimi apologized to his family, the Sheriff's Department and the people of San Francisco. He also apologized to Ivory Madison, a neighbor who made a videotape of his bruised wife, Eliana Lopez, and alerted police to the incident.

In response to the judge's question about how he pleaded to the charge of misdemeanor false imprisonment, Mirkarimi answered, "Guilty."

It was a stunning turn in the legal case that has gripped San Francisco politically and generated international headlines.

Asked afterward if justice had been served, prosecutor Elizabeth Aguilar Tarchi said, "I believe it has."

Mirkarimi had been charged with domestic violence, dissuading a witness and child endangerment in connection with the incident, which authorities say took place in front of the couple's 2-year-old son. He had pleaded not guilty to those charges.

The guilty plea does not automatically disqualify Mirkarimi from serving as sheriff. However, Mayor Ed Lee can charge him with official misconduct and seek his removal.

If the mayor did so, it would trigger a hearing before the city's independent Ethics Commission and then go to the Board of Supervisors. At least nine of the 11 supervisors, all but one of whom served with Mirkarimi, would have to find him guilty of misconduct for him to be forced out of his job.

Lee said this morning that he will confer with his legal counsel over what constitutes "official misconduct" and how that could affect Mirkarimi's ability to do his job. Lee said a decision may be weeks away.

"I continue to be concerned about the sheriff's office and making sure it represents everything we wish it to," said Lee, who had unsuccessfully tried to get Mirkarimi to voluntarily step aside while he faced charges.

The video that Madison shot of Lopez, 36, on Jan. 1 showed Lopez displaying a large bruise on her right bicep that she said Mirkarimi had inflicted. She told Madison that Mirkarimi had been angered by her plans to take their son with her on a trip to her native Venezuela. Subsequently, Lopez made repeated public statements that her husband did not abuse her.

He still must abide by a stay-away order that prohibits him from having any contact with his wife until a family court agrees to lift the restraint.

Also, until the stay-away order is lifted, Mirkarimi will be prevented from possessing or using firearms. The sheriff had to turn in his guns when the charge of domestic violence was filed; the new charge doesn't carry the same automatic restriction.

Attorneys for both Mirkarimi and Lopez had tried several legal avenues to bar the videotape from trial but so far had been rebuffed by the court trial court and a three-judge panel of the San Francisco Superior Court's Appellate Division.

The deal between prosecutors and Mirkarimi to amend the charges was reached Sunday night, said his defense attorney, Lidia Stiglich. Jury selection was to have continued today.

Mirkarimi, who was sworn in as sheriff Jan. 8 and charged about a week later, spoke briefly outside the courtroom this morning.

"For the last two months, this case has caused my family, my department - the Sheriff's Department - and this city great turmoil and pain and disappointment. This plea allows us to move forward," he said. "I intend to return to the business of running one of the finest Sheriff's Departments in this nation, of mending my family and raising my son, Theo, in a safe and happy home."

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Heather Knight contributed to this story.

Rachel Gordon is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.


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