Ross Mirkarimi pleads not guilty to charges

January 19, 2012 7:56:49 PM PST
The wife of San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi strongly defended her husband during his arraignment Thursday on three charges stemming from a domestic violence incident involving the couple on New Year's Eve.

Mirkarimi, 50, appeared in court this afternoon and pleaded not guilty today to misdemeanor charges of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness.

He was ordered by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Susan Breall to stay away from his wife, Eliana Lopez and their 2-year-old son Theo throughout the court proceedings, despite an emotional statement by Lopez in support of her husband and against the order.

"The violence against me is I don't have my family together," Lopez said. "I'm not afraid of my husband at all."

She said Theo woke up at 5 a.m. today to ask "Is daddy at home?" and said she promised that he would be home the next day.

Mirkarimi removed his glasses to wipe away tears at times during Lopez's speech to the judge.

Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Aguilar-Tarchi had sought the stayaway order and laid out much of the evidence in the case against Mirkarimi in support of it.

Aguilar-Tarchi cited a video that a neighbor took of Lopez, who went to the neighbor's home the day after the alleged incident.

Lopez "poured her soul out" in the video, saying she was afraid of Mirkarimi and showed the neighbor a bruise on her inner right bicep allegedly caused during an argument with Mirkarimi, Aguilar-Tarchi said.

In text messages between Lopez and the neighbor in the ensuing days, Lopez also mulled whether to change the locks on the doors of the family's Webster Street home and said she wanted to take Ross to therapy, Aguilar-Tarchi said.

The neighbor, since identified as Ivory Madison, reported the incident to police on Jan. 4, according to an arrest warrant affidavit filed by police last Friday.

According to the affidavit, Lopez also alluded in the video to past incidents between the couple and said she wanted to use the video "just in case (Mirkarimi) wants to take Theo away from me" because he allegedly told her he "is very powerful and can do it."

Lopez's attorney, Cheryl Wallace, initially claimed that because Madison is a licensed attorney, the video should not be admitted as evidence under attorney-client privilege, but Aguilar-Tarchi countered that Lopez also told a second neighbor about the incident.

The second neighbor said Lopez described it as Mirkarimi "going ballistic," according to the affidavit.

Breall ultimately sided with prosecutors and issued the stayaway order, saying although Lopez is "quite charming" and "says her husband is a good person," she said, "I have to go by this affidavit."

"I'm concerned about a child that's involved ... and I have to take a police report at face value," Breall said. "This situation is still a volatile situation."

Before Breall issued her order, Mirkarimi's attorney Bob Waggener acknowledged that Mirkarimi left the bruise on Lopez's arm during the argument but said "it's really on the lower tiers" of domestic violence.

Waggener said the couple has since reunited and should be allowed to work through their problems.

"Couples get over it, couples get through it," he said.

The hearing was briefly delayed while Lopez talked to a victim services official with the district attorney's office at the recommendation of Lopez, and so Waggener and Wallace could discuss the case.

At the end of the hearing, Mirkarimi was ordered to return to court on Monday to set a date for trial. Because the case is a misdemeanor, the trial has to begin within 45 days.

He will also return to court next Thursday when Waggener will seek to modify the stayaway order to allow the family to reunite.

Mirkarimi did not speak during the hearing and declined to speak to reporters outside the courtroom after the hearing.

His wife spoke briefly, blaming the U.S. legal system for keeping her family apart.

"This country is not allowing me to work on my marriage in a healthy way," she said.

Mirkarimi, who was just sworn in as sheriff on Jan. 8 after serving for seven years on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, has said he does not plan to resign.

If convicted on all charges, he could face up to a year in prison and three years' probation.