The wife of suspended San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi made a dramatic return to the U.S. from Venezuela to testify Wednesday night at an Ethics Commission hearing on whether he should be removed from office.
Eliana Lopez had been out of the country since March, the same month Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment in connection with a Dec. 31 incident in which he grabbed Lopez’s arm during an argument, causing a bruise.
Mayor Ed Lee then suspended Mirkarimi without pay on official misconduct charges, and the city’s Ethics Commission was tasked with conducting an inquiry into the matter and making a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which will ultimately decide whether to remove him from office.
Lopez, who is supporting her husband, was asked to appear to testify in front of the commission, and smiled at Mirkarimi when she came into the hearing room to begin her testimony Wednesday night.
Under questioning by Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith, who is representing the mayor, Lopez said she is staying in her native Venezuela because the couple’s young son Theo “is safer in Venezuela than in San Francisco.”
She said she also moved there to help support the family as an actress after Mirkarimi was suspended without pay, and said she’s preparing to start filming a movie there next week.
Lopez said she hoped her husband might be reinstated by the time a court order requires her to return to the country next month, barring an extension that would have to be approved by Mirkarimi.
“Maybe he’s the sheriff again so I can come back,” she said.
Keith questioned Lopez about the events of Dec. 31, as well as the following day when she made a video with a neighbor, Ivory Madison, in which Lopez showed the bruise on her arm and said Mirkarimi told her he is a powerful man and had threatened to take custody of Theo.
Lopez said Wednesday night that Mirkarimi “never said ‘I am a powerful man,'” but that it was an expression of her concern that he could get custody of their son if the couple divorced.
She said Mirkarimi did grab her arm while they drove with Theo to get lunch on Dec. 31 after she brought up a potential trip to Venezuela with their son.
“I got so angry, I said ‘Stop,'” she said.
Lopez’s testimony will continue when the commission resumes its hearing on Thursday evening.
Following the end of Wednesday night’s hearing, Mirkarimi’s attorney Shepard Kopp spoke to reporters and sharply criticized the deputy city attorney’s line of questioning to Lopez.
“The questioning of Ms. Lopez so far I think is just offensive,” Kopp said. “I can’t imagine how anyone can participate in this kind of process that does this kind of thing to a family.”
Earlier in the hearing, Linnette Peralta Haynes, the manager of Mirkarimi’s campaign for sheriff, also testified in front of the commission.
The city attorney’s office has alleged that Peralta Haynes worked with Mirkarimi to intimidate or dissuade the couple’s neighbor Madison from cooperating with police.
Madison had called police on Jan. 4 to report the case, a move Lopez has said was against her wishes.
Peralta Haynes denied allegations by the city attorney’s office that she crafted emails for Lopez to send to Madison, or coached her on what to say to the neighbor.
“Absolutely not,” she said.
She said she learned of the Dec. 31 incident after Lopez called her on Jan. 4 to talk about it.
“I wasn’t seeking her out, she called me,” Peralta Haynes said.
Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser questioned Peralta Haynes for more than three hours, to the chagrin of Ethics Commission chair Benedict Hur, who wanted to move the proceedings along.
“If there’s a best you’re saving for last, I suggest you get there,” Hur said at one point.
At Thursday’s hearing, the Ethics Commission is also expected to address allegations that the mayor lied under oath during his testimony to the commission on June 29.
Mirkarimi’s attorneys are seeking subpoenas for four people, including Supervisor Christina Olague, that they say can prove Lee perjured himself during his testimony.
Lee testified that he had not consulted with any supervisors about Mirkarimi before deciding to suspend him. But city Building Inspection Commissioner Debra Walker told reporters that Olague told her Lee discussed the issue with her prior to the suspension.
When the administrative case ultimately gets to the Board of Supervisors, nine of the 11 supervisors will have to approve the sheriff’s ouster. Mirkarimi served on the board for seven years before being elected sheriff in November and taking office on Jan. 8.
Mirkarimi was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to undergo a year of domestic violence counseling following his guilty plea in March.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News