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SF Sheriff Mirkarimi's Return Brings Further Division At City Hall

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) -- Embattled San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is expected to take control of his department next week, even as the district attorney, the mayor and a city official who voted not to remove him from office question his ability to oversee the agency.

Though he avoided losing his job, Mirkarimi is on probation for a criminal conviction in a domestic violence case stemming from a New Year's Eve dispute with his actress wife.

"I have grave concerns about Ross Mirkarimi's ability to manage the Sheriff's Department," District Attorney George Gascon said Wednesday. "What I will not accept is any compromise of public safety as a result of his reinstatement. ... I am calling upon Ross to recuse himself from the duties in his office that relate to the custody, supervision, safety and rehabilitation of domestic violence offenders."

The Board of Supervisors voted late Tuesday against upholding official misconduct charges and removing the suspended sheriff from office. Nine of 11 votes were required to oust Mirkarimi. The board voted 7-4.

The four supervisors whose votes blocked the sheriff's ouster on Tuesday are progressives like Mirkarimi. John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim and Christina Olague each denounced domestic violence, but said Mirkarimi's incident didn't rise to the level of official misconduct according to the City Charter.

On Wednesday, Kim emailed her constituents explaining her vote while also saying her faith in Mirkarimi as a person and sheriff has been "greatly diminished." She even suggested that voters demand a recall.

"I am deeply pained by the decision because regardless of the legal reasoning for my final vote, I know that the public may perceive this as a statement that violence committed by an elected official is OK," Kim said. "The electorate has every right to recall the sheriff, an action which I would support."

For any recall vote of Mirkarimi, petitioners would need to gather more than 48,000 signatures—about 10 percent of all registered voters in San Francisco—within 160 days, John Arntz, the city's director of elections, said Thursday.

If certified by the Elections Department, a special election would be called, Arntz said. He added that if the effort ended near the November 2013 election, the recall would go on that ballot.

Meanwhile, Mirkarimi continues transitioning back to his job. He is expected to lead the department next week.

"It's a new day," Mirkarimi told reporters on Wednesday in City Hall. "I asked for a clean, effective transition."

After his election last fall, the sheriff was mired in controversy before his swearing-in ceremony. In March, Mayor Ed Lee suspended him without pay after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge related to the argument with his wife, Eliana Lopez, who suffered a bruised bicep.

Mirkarimi was sentenced to three years of probation and fined.

He is undergoing court-ordered counseling and parenting classes.

Lee then took the unprecedented step of trying to remove Mirkarimi permanently as sheriff. In August, the city's Ethics Commission voted 4-1 that Mirkarimi committed official misconduct, setting the stage for the supervisors' long-awaited vote.

On Tuesday, after the board vote restored him as sheriff, Mirkarimi said the ordeal has been both agonizing and humbling. He said he plans to mend fences within the city and anti-domestic violence advocates.

But high emotions continued Wednesday as Lee lambasted Avalos, Campos, Kim and Olague over their decisions.

"I believe they sought out an excuse for an inexcusable act that was confirmed by the criminal courts," the mayor told reporters.

Lee said Mirkarimi's return to office tarnishes the city's nationally recognized programs designed to combat domestic violence.

One of Mirkarimi's attorneys, Shepard Kopp, said Wednesday that it appears Lee and Gascon did not hear what the board said during Tuesday's hearing. "Almost every one of them said that no matter the vote, the city needed to come together and move past this unsettling course of events," Kopp said.

San Francisco's sheriff does not have broad law enforcement powers as sheriffs do in other jurisdictions. The position mostly entails overseeing an organization of more than 800 sworn officers and a civilian staff of about 100.

Mirkarimi's case unfolded from a Dec. 31 argument between Mirkarimi and Lopez, over whether she could travel to her native Venezuela with their toddler son. During the dispute, Mirkarimi grabbed and bruised Lopez's arm.

Lopez turned to a neighbor who later contacted police after videotaping Lopez's tearful account of the incident.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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