SAN FRANCISCO — A contrite and emotional San Francisco sheriff apologized Monday for a domestic violence incident with his wife after a judge sentenced him to three years of probation and ordered him to attend an anti-domestic violence program.
"There are no excuses and I accept full responsibility," Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said outside court. He read a prepared statement and appeared to choke up several times when he mentioned his longing to reunite with his wife and 3-year-old son.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said he accepted Mirkarimi's statement as sincere and believes the sheriff is accepting responsibility for his actions.
Last week, Gascon said he had been upset while reading comments from Mirkarimi and his supporters suggesting the plea was made because of rising attorney fees and the sheriff's desire to simply put the embarrassing incident behind him.
"He assumed full responsibility," Gascon said Monday in his office near the courtroom where Mirkarimi was sentenced for bruising the bicep of his wife Eliana Lopez, a former telenovela star in her native Venezuela.
Now that the sheriff has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of false imprisonment and been sentenced, the question is whether Mirkarimi can keep the job he won in the November election and took over in January.
Anti-domestic violence advocates are calling for Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors to remove Mirkarimi, a former supervisor, from office.
While Lee can start the proceedings to remove Mirkarimi, it will take the votes of nine of 11 supervisors to accomplish that task.
Francis Tsang, a spokesman, said the mayor was meeting Monday with Mirkarimi to discuss the conviction "and what's best for San Francisco." He would not elaborate.
Gascon defended his office's decision to allow Mirkarimi to plead guilty in exchange for the dropping of three other misdemeanor charges of domestic violence, child endangerment and dissuading a witness.
The deal was struck as a jury was picked for a trial that promised to embarrass the newly elected sheriff with testimony about infidelity, his temper and other intimate details.
"This was not a political prosecution," said Gascon, noting he would have gone ahead with the trial if he wanted to harm Mirkarimi's political standing. "Our intent was not political or to embarrass him. It was to seek justice"
Gascon also said the false imprisonment charge was a domestic violence plea and the conviction was just as serious as the charges that were dropped.
Under the plea agreement, Mirkarimi must pay $590 in fines, serve probation, spend a year in a domestic violence intervention program, take parenting classes and do community service.
The district attorney said Mirkarimi will be barred from carrying a gun until a judge lifts a stay-away order still in place that prevents the sheriff from seeing his wife without court permission. Gascon said that order could stay in place for the entire three years of probation.
Mirkarimi must meet with a probation officer and return to court April 6 to assure the judge he is complying with terms of his sentence.
Mirkarimi also said he was undergoing counseling to address "my arrogance and anger management issues" and reiterated his advocacy against domestic violence while serving two-terms on the Board of Supervisors.
He said he wanted to correct a misperception that he once said domestic violence was a private matter.
An advocates group for domestic violence victims erected a billboard near downtown San Francisco proclaiming that "domestic violence is never a private matter."
Mirkarimi said his remark was meant to characterize his feeling about the criminal investigation of him – not domestic violence.
"I do not believe that domestic violence is a private matter," he said. "I have worked very hard for the anti-domestic violence community."
The sheriff declined to answer questions after addressing a phalanx of cameras after his five-minute sentencing hearing. He then exited the courthouse through a secure door and hallway controlled by the Sheriff's Department.
All misdemeanors can be punished with a maximum sentence of one year in jail, though most people convicted of such crimes serve less – if any – jail time.
The sheriff was technically sentenced to serve a day in jail, but the judge credited him with time served for the day he turned himself in and underwent the booking process.
Mirkarimi insisted his department was operating "right" during his case, but the head of the 800-member union representing San Francisco deputy sheriff's disagreed.
"We are extremely disappointed any time a law enforcement officer pleads guilty of a crime," said Don Wilson, president of San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs Association. "Morale within the sheriff's office has been affected by this incident."