His voice trembled. His palms sweat. Moments after San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was sentenced on a domestic violence charge Monday, he apologized to his family and community, saying he was "ashamed and deeply sorry" for his behavior.
It was enough to convince District Attorney George Gascon, who questioned Mirkarimi's sincerity last week, to "take him at his word." But the sheriff's contrition before a phalanx of reporters in the hallway outside the San Francisco courtroom was "too little, too late" for domestic violence victims' advocates. They renewed their call for his ouster.
"That trust is broken, and I don't think a few comments today, as happy as I am to hear them, are enough to show any real remorse," said Beverly Upton, executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium.
Perhaps the most important person Mirkarimi needed to convince, aside from his wife and 2-year-old son, is San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who has the power to start a process involving the Board of Supervisors that could lead to Mirkarimi's removal from office. Lee planned to meet with Mirkarimi later Monday to "discuss his charges, the next steps and what's best for San Francisco," said Lee spokesman Francis Tsang. Lee wouldn't discuss the outcome of the meeting until Tuesday, Tsang said.
"I think the mayor has a very good heart and should gather his courage and start the ball rolling to remove him from office," Upton said Monday.
The case ends an 11-week legal odyssey stemming from a New Year's Eve argument between Mirkarimi and his Venezuelan soap star wife, Eliana Lopez. He "grabbed her and bruised her" and wouldn't let her leave the house after they argued about her plans to take their 2-year-old son to visit family in Venezuela, Gascon said.
The district attorney originally charged Mirkarimi with three counts of misdemeanor domestic violence, but dropped it to a single count as part of a plea deal reached last week.
Mirkarimi, 50, who was just elected in November as one of San Francisco's top law enforcement officials -- the man in charge of supervising the jails -- was sentenced Monday after pleading guilty to false imprisonment. Judge James Collins sentenced him to a day of time already served in jail, three years probation, 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling, 100 hours of community service and a $590 fine.
Despite recording with a neighbor her tearful story of abuse, and showing her bruised arm on camera, Lopez denied she was a victim and pleaded for the charges to be dropped. Just days after stories about the fight surfaced in the media, Lopez stood at her husband's side in early January as he took his oath of office and he called it "one of the happiest days of my life."
On Monday, Mirkarimi said he has been in counseling since the confrontation for "arrogance and anger issues." He also apologized to the domestic violence support community, saying he regrets ever saying that his fight with his wife was "a private family matter."
"I will work so much harder to regain the trust I have lost," he said.
In the days following that comment, a victims advocacy group raised $4,000 to pay for a downtown billboard that stated: "Domestic Violence is NEVER a private matter."
"It shouldn't take a billboard campaign" for the sheriff to recognize the error of his ways, Upton said.
Gascon expressed concern last week about whether Mirkarimi was sincere about his guilt after reading comments the sheriff made about controlling his mounting legal bills, but Gascon said Monday he was "comfortable'' after hearing the sheriff's apology.
Mirkarimi must still abide by the "stay-away" order that bans him from seeing his wife or carrying a gun and imposes limitations on visits with his son. Gascon said it's possible Mirkarimi won't be able to carry a gun until his three years probation is up, but that too will be up for a court to decide. A judge will determine when Mirkarimi has made enough progress in counseling to warrant the reunion with his wife. Lopez has said she loves her husband and wants their marriage to continue.
"I know how deeply I have let the people down and am eternally and deeply sorry," Mirkarimi told reporters. "I am not the person I thought I was."
Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.
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