ECLECTIC RANT: San Francisco Sheriff on the Hot Seat Again

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:14:00 AM

It has been widely reported that the San Francisco Sheriff's deputies are accused of forcing inmates to fight "gladiator-style" to entertain guards who bet on the outcome and even forced the inmates to train for future fights. What has not been widely discussed, is, if the allegations are true, what responsibility does San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi have for the misconduct? What did he know and if he did not know, why not? 

The Sheriff should have been on alert as the deputy sheriff, who is accused of arranging the present misconduct, was previously accused of sexually assaulting inmates in 2006. Why hasn't this deputy been suspended until an independent investigation is conducted? 

Many sheriff's deputies and others in the sheriff's office must have been aware of what was going on, but reportedly failed to report the alleged misconduct to Mirkarimi. Significantly, this alleged misconduct was revealed by a San Francisco Public Defender's investigation rather than by the Sheriff's own criminal investigations unit.  

In addition to his present difficulties, Mirkarimi is remembered by San Franciscans for the 2011 domestic violence incident. Lets look back. Mirkarimi was elected sheriff in November 2011 and served from January to March 2012, at which time he was charged with domestic violence battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness in connection with a December 31, 2011 New Year's Eve altercation with his wife Eliana Lopez. Mirkarimi ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor false imprisonment. Under the plea agreement, Mirkarimi was sentenced to three years' probation, one year of weekly domestic violence batterers classes, parenting classes, a hundred hours of community service, and fines and court fees of about $600. 

San Francisco Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi from office pending an ethics investigation. Before the Ethics Commission hearings, Mirkarimi argued that the bruise he caused to his wife's arm was not "domestic violence." Given this out-of-date thinking, I could not imagine how the sheriff would benefit from his court-ordered counseling. And how could someone on domestic violence probation oversee and lead the Sheriff's Department's innovative, nationally recognized batterer treatment programs. On August 16, 2012, the Ethics Commission ruled 4 to 1 that Mirkarimi had committed official misconduct by falsely imprisoning his wife. 

According to the San Francisco city charter, removing a public official for misconduct requires the vote of nine of eleven supervisors. I concluded after reviewing the facts that Mirkarimi's actions fell far below the standards of decency that San Franciscans demand of their sheriff. Unfortunately, only seven of the eleven supervisors voted to allow Mirkarimi to keep his job as sheriff and he was reinstated as sheriff in October 2012. Ross Mirkarimi has announced that he will seek re-election as sheriff. Retired Chief Deputy Sheriff Vicki Hennessy who was appointed acting sheriff during Mirkarimi's suspension, has announced she will oppose Mirkarimi. For the first time since the domestic violence case, voters will get to decide whether Mirkarimi should keep his job as sheriff. The alleged "gladiator-style" allegations during Mirkarimi's watch will not help.  

I for one am voting for Ms. Hennessy this November.