SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said Tuesday he planned to talk with embattled Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi about whether Mirkarimi can continue doing his job amid domestic abuse and other criminal charges.
Lee said he will ask if Mirkarimi might consider taking a leave of absence because his case has become a "distraction" for the city. Lee, who has the power to suspend the newly sworn-in-sheriff, said he would leave the decision up to Mirkarimi.
"It's appropriate that he make a decision first on whether he would consider a leave of absence. He needs to make his own decision," Lee told reporters during an impromptu briefing.
The mayor would not say whether he would ask Mirkarimi to step down, adding that the sheriff already has enough pressure on him.
"I'm not a political person, I don't put pressure on anybody," Lee said.
Mirkarimi, 50, is scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 24 on charges that he bruised the right arm of his wife, former Venezuelan telenovela star Eliana Lopez, during a New Year's Eve incident at the couple's home.
Mirkarimi has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness. He denies the allegations and has vowed not to resign.
According to an arrest affidavit, Mirkarimi is alleged to have mistreated his wife on two separate occasions last year and to have told her he was a "very powerful" man who could take away their son.
Lopez appeared on a Jan. 1 videotape candidly discussing the Dec. 31 confrontation and another incident earlier last year, according to the affidavit.
The footage was shot by a neighbor, Ivory Madison, whose call to police prompted an investigation. Lopez, 36, is crying and visibly upset about the couple's run-in the day before, the affidavit said, and she points to a bruise on her right bicep where she said Mirkarimi grabbed her.
Lopez has since told a judge that she is not afraid of her husband. Mirkarimi is due back in court on Thursday seeking to modify or remove the judge's order to stay away from his wife and their 2-year-old son, Theo.
Mirkarimi's attorney, Robert Waggener, said Tuesday that he had just heard about Lee's comments and had not had a chance to talk to his client.
"We have a trial date and we're going to trial," Waggener said. "The way that this case is being tried in the press is becoming a bit more difficult, but we'll get our day in court."
The mayor's comments about Mirkarimi come two days after a new complaint was filed by a former girlfriend alleging a similar incident when she was dating Mirkarimi before he was married.
Christina Flores, told police Sunday that the newly elected sheriff shoved her against a wall and bruised her left arm at his home at least three years ago. A former television talk show host, Flores said Mikarimi went on verbal tirades several times and she wanted authorities to know his alleged abusive behavior was not an isolated occurrence.
"If I need to testify, I will," Flores told the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday.
Waggener said Tuesday that the latest accusation is overblown.
"Mr. Mirkarimi did have a relationship with her, he was single at the time and it ended poorly," Waggener said. "He was not abusive in any way toward her."
Waggener said he does not know why Flores filed a police report many years after the alleged incident.
"Obviously, there was a delay in her reporting," Waggener said. "I don't have a reason for her timing and motivation," Waggener said.
Waggener added that he doesn't expect anybody else making similar accusations against the sheriff.
"This is the craziest thing I have ever seen. This case was launched in the press and then I get calls to respond to what's going on next," Waggener said. "It is an odd situation that gets even odder with each day."