San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi plead guilty today to one count of misdemeanor false imprisonment in the domestic violence case that’s plagued the new sheriff since before he took office. In exchange, the district attorney dropped three additional charges against the sheriff, including domestic violence. Mirkarimi is expected to be sentenced to three years of probation, 100 hours of community services, around $600 in fines, and a year of anger management counseling. Mirkarimi’s legal battle appears to be over, but the case is bound to follow him for years, as he defends his job, his ability to lead a law enforcement office, and his progressive political credentials. Minouche Kandel, a staff attorney for Legal Aid in San Francisco, who represents domestic violence victims in family court and immigration matters, led protests against the sheriff when Mirkarimi originally denied his guilt and called the New Years Eve incident “a private matter.” I spoke with Kandel earlier today about the verdict.
So you guys were pretty supportive, I believe, of Ross Mirkarimi when he was running for sheriff and then were quickly disappointed when these accusations came out. Is that right?
Before he became sheriff, when he was a supervisor, Ross Mirkarimi was very supportive around making sure the city funded services for domestic violence survivors. He was definitely supportive of that issue, so it was disappointing when criminal charges were brought against him for abusing his wife.
So how do you think the case played out and are you satisfied with the outcome?
Yeah, I think it’s great that the sheriff has taken responsibility for his abusive behavior by pleading guilty to false imprisonment. And now he can start working on getting the help that he needs.
So he’s going to go to certain counseling classes as part of the plea deal. These are services provided by the county sheriff’s department. What do these classes entail?
So the sheriff’s department doesn’t actually provide the batterers’ counseling, they just certify that the programs meet requirements that the state establishes for a program in order to be able to provide counseling for people who have been convicted of domestic violence. So these are private organizations that are certified by the sheriff’s department to provide the counseling. And generally they are programs that are 52 weeks long, and the person has to go once a week to the counseling, so it’s a pretty rigorous counseling program.
Are you pleased with these kinds of services and how they’ve worked in the past?
I think batterers’ counseling helps some people. It’s not a cure-all for all people. But it’s certainly a start. Particularly if one has to plead guilty and acknowledge one has a problem, that’s the first step to trying to end violent behavior.
Will the advocacy community that was mostly behind Mirkarimi forgive him, assuming he successfully complies with this deal?
I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think the resolution of the criminal case is the end of the story. I still think it’s problematic for the sheriff’s department to be headed by someone who’s been convicted of falsely imprisoning their wife. So I think there’s still possible fall-out that can happen as far as whether he can keep his job.
But he doesn’t come up for election for another few years.
Right, but I think there are things that the mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors can do before that election.
So are you advocating for him to step down?
I think the resolution of the criminal case does not end the story about having a sheriff who’s committed domestic violence. So I think there’s a second stage to look at. To look at, now that he’s pled guilty, is it appropriate for him to continue serving as sheriff.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Yeah, I think this case models how to prosecute a domestic violence case when the survivor of the domestic violence is not willing to cooperate with the prosecution. Because we know in many, many cases survivors do not want to be part of the criminal process. And this case shows how you can get a successful resolution without involving the victim.
That’s interesting because a lot of people would see the intervention of the legal system as being very traumatizing to this family. And I wonder if that’s just how it always is in these cases.
I think this case just puts on a big screen a lot of the issues we see all the time in these cases. Which is that they’re complicated. And sometimes the criminal courts are the best ways to resolve these issues and sometimes family courts are the best way to resolve the issues. But when you have a public figure that’s committed domestic violence, that just adds another layer.