SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) -- Embattled San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, recently convicted of a domestic violence-related crime, was suspended by Mayor Ed Lee on Tuesday evening after he rebuffed an ultimatum to either resign or face removal from office.
Moments after a defiant Mirkarimi told reporters that he was refusing to step down, Lee announced the filing of official misconduct charges with the city's Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors, which is the start of the process to permanently remove the sheriff from office.
"Ross Mirkarimi has now pled guilty to falsely imprisoning his wife. After careful review of the City Charter and the evidence before me, I am suspending and formally charging Ross Mirkarimi with official misconduct," said Lee, in remarks that were televised live on CBS 5 throughout the Bay Area. "I take this action with every conviction that I am acting on a firm legal basis and doing what is in the best interest of the people of San Francisco."
"I do not believe that the conduct that I have taken responsibility for constitutes official misconduct," Mirkarimi maintained in his talk with reporters, although he declined to elaborate. "I look forward to making my case to the Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors."
Lee quickly appointed Vicki Hennessy, the retired head of the city's Emergency Management Dept. and a former chief deputy sheriff, as Mirkirimi's interim replacement.
Hennessy is a former Chief Deputy Sheriff and retired Emergency Management and Homeland Security Chief. Her appointment makes her San Francisco's first female sheriff. Santa Clara County elected the first one in California, when Laurie Smith became sheriff 13 years ago.
KCBS' Doug Sovern Reports:
The mayor's decision came after mounting pressure at a tense City Hall for Lee and other city leaders to address the sheriff's misdemeanor criminal conviction.
Lee and Mirkarimi had met for about 30 minutes on Monday after a judge sentenced the sheriff to three years of probation and ordered him to attend anti-domestic violence counseling for a year. It was at that meeting, CBS 5 confirmed, that Lee gave Mirkarimi the option to resign or face removal.
KCBS' Barbara Taylor and Doug Sovern Report:
Mirkarimi, 50, pleaded guilty to the charge of false imprisonment after bruising the arm of his wife, Eliana Lopez, during a New Year's Eve argument in front of the couple's toddler son. The plea came after a deal struck with prosecutors to drop several other misdemeanor counts against the sheriff.
Lopez's attorney Paula Canny held a separate news conference earlier Tuesday, saying Lopez "absolutely wants Ross to remain in office." She said her client continued to maintain that she was not a victim of domestic abuse - despite a neighbor's videotape of her injuries following the incident - and "feels attacked and used" by the criminal justice system.
Within five days, the Ethics Commission is expected to consider the misconduct charges and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which could remove Mirkarimi from office with the votes of at least nine of the 11 board members.
Former board president Aaron Peskin, currently chairman of San Francisco's Democratic Party, summed up why removal could be likely.
"Ross Mirkarimi took an oath to faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Sheriff of the City and County of San Francisco. Now, his actions and the circumstances which surround him, fulfilling his duties and responsibilities and honoring that oath is no longer possible," Peskin explained, adding that he hoped the sheriff would change his mind and voluntarily step down.
Mirkarimi was elected sheriff last November after serving two terms as a supervisor. He was sworn into office on Jan. 8, just days before the domestic violence incident became public knowledge.
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