San Francisco Chronicle, Sonja Och, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO — A city panel delayed its final decision on whether San Francisco's suspended sheriff should keep his job after finding he committed official misconduct when he got into a fight with his wife that led to his conviction on a misdemeanor charge.
After a hearing that lasted more than 10 hours, the five-member San Francisco Ethics Commission voted 4-1 on the misconduct, but delayed until September its recommendation over whether Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi should be removed from office.
The board is advisory only. Its final recommendation will be sent to the Board of Supervisors sometime this fall.
Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi in March without pay after the sheriff pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment related to a New Year's Eve fight with his wife, a popular Venezuela soap opera actress. Eliana Lopez suffered a bruised bicep.
Prosecutors originally charged Mirkarimi with other charges including misdemeanor domestic violence. San Francisco's district attorney dropped those charges in exchange for Mirkarimi's guilty plea. He was sentenced to three years of probation.
Lee is asking for the sheriff's permanent removal.
"I am pleased that the members of the Ethics Commission ... agreed with me that Ross Mirkarimi's actions constitute official misconduct and fall below the ethical conduct we expect of the sheriff, our top law enforcement officer," Lee said in a statement.
Several of the commissioners complained in the hearing that Mirkarimi appeared to downplay the significance of Lopez's injury and his behavior during the fight. Commissioner Paul Renne said "voters would be shocked" if the panel did not find official misconduct.
"Clearly this conduct falls below anyone's sense of decency," Renne said.
Lopez has maintained that she wasn't abused and alleged the charges against her husband were politically motivated. Lopez, who has spent most of the year living with the couple's son Theo in Venezuela, sat next to Mirkarimi throughout the hearing.
"I hope for justice. I am shocked to see what happened today," Lopez told reporters after the hearing. "But we are fighters."
Venezuelans and other Latin Americans followed the case closely because of Lopez's celebrity. She is best known as Oriana Ponce De Leon, a villain-turned-heroine on the telenovela "Amor a Palos."
The couple said they began arguing on New Year's Eve over Lopez's desire to take Theo on a trip to Venezuela after Mirkarimi's Jan. 8 inauguration.
The sheriff until recently was under a court order barring contact with Lopez, a standard procedure in San Francisco. He's still barred from carrying a gun.
In addition to the three years of probation, a $590 fine and one-year of counseling and parenting classes, Mirkarimi was ordered to apologize to the neighbor who initially alerted police.
His lawyers have accused her of betraying Lopez's confidence by reporting the incident.
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