Mirkarimi Hearing Resumes After Threat

Sheriff says he was not involved in a coverup in the domestic abuse case.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi sat in the hot seat for a second straight day, answering questions from the city's ethics commission. Later, a security threat forced commissioners to abruptly stop the hearing, rushing Mayor Ed Lee out. NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez reports.

    The room where a hearing for San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was being held was abruptly cleared Friday afternoon during the testimony of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

    At 1 p.m. there was the San Francisco Police Department informed city hall that it had received a phone threat from a person against the building and another undisclosed location.  

    The threat was not specific to anything going on inside city hall and it was not a threat to a person or business, rather the building itself.  

    Deputies and officers were evaluating the threat Friday afternoon.  The decision to halt the Mirkarimi hearing and remove the mayor was made by someone in the police department.

    The session resumed after the threat was cleared. Lee was the star witness of the day.

    Lee said he came to the conclusion that Mirkarimi did commit domestic violence because he admitted to it.

    He said he did not contact Mirkarimi's wife because he didn't need any information from her. The record established that there was enough evidence to define the behavior for official misconduct, Lee said.

    He added that the main criterion was the question he had: Did Mirkarimi engage in criminal activity, or domestic violence.

    Lee said he waited for full conclusion on the case, reviewed full record and that was enough for him to confirm the "wrongful beating."

    Earlier in the day, deputy city attorney Peter Keith continued his questioning of suspended Mirkarimi. He went over logs of calls and text messages.

    Mirkarimi says he didn't learn of the video of his wife's bruise until January 4 at about 4 p.m. when his wife texted him she needed to talk to him. He met her outside City Hall.

    "My wife proceeded to tell me what had happened with neighbor. She informed me about existence of the tape. I could see my wife was scared concerned and angry about what the neighbor was doing," Mirkarimi said. 

    "My wife was suggesting to me, she was asking me what can we do about this. I was trying to absorb it all, process what was happening."

    Mirkarimi says he told his wife, "You cannot unring this bell. We must follow through with the process."

    The city's deputy city attorney played a clip from Mirkarimi's inaguration in which he jokes about what brought so much media out.

    "Is domestic violence a laughing matter?" Keith asked Mirkarimi.

    Mirkarimi says he was simply "Breaking the ice about a stressful situation."

    Mirkarimi's attorney David. Waggoner is now questioning him as are other commissioners. Mirkarimi explained he and his wife were having an argument about a pending trip to Venezuela. He said he was sad and scared to be without his family. He also said Eliana had extended a prior trip from two weeks to two months.

    "I love my family and didn't want to be without my son for a long period of time," he said near tears. .

    "When my wife and I were returning. We had been quarelling. We were both in a heated discussion. Parked the car. Both me and my wife was upset. I was stupidly wrongly thinking I could calm things down. I put my hand underneath her right arm that's how it got bruised.

    "I wish I could turn back the clock. I feel horrible, ashamed," he said about harming his wife.

    He said he realizes he faces an uphill battle but feels he can still be an effective sheriff. In fact he feels he can be an asset now that he's been on both sides of the aisle. Believes he's an example of redemption. .

    -----------------Previous story below--------------------

    Suspended San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi acknowledged a violent act against his wife but denied attempts at a cover-up during the start of his testimony Thursday night at the administrative hearing to determine whether he can keep his job.

    Mirkarimi was suspended by Mayor Ed Lee in March on official misconduct charges following his guilty plea to misdemeanor false imprisonment in connection with a Dec. 31 argument with his wife, Eliana Lopez, in which he grabbed and bruised her arm.

    He appeared before the city's Ethics Commission to defend himself against the charges, giving mostly terse answers under questioning by Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith on the duties and policies of the sheriff, as well as the events of New Year's Eve and the following days.

    "Sheriff, you committed an act of violence on Dec. 31, correct?" Keith asked. "I grabbed my wife's arm and bruised it. Yes, that is an act of violence, something I regret terribly," Mirkarimi said.

    Mirkarimi gave a string of "Yes" answers to questions asked by Keith, including one in which he was asked if his conduct reflected adversely on the sheriff's department.

    Mayor Lee, via the city attorney's office, has argued that Mirkarimi's conviction, for which he was sentenced to three years' probation and other penalties, prevents him from adequately serving the duties of sheriff and falls below the standard of decency expected of an elected official.

    The city attorney's office has also alleged that Mirkarimi used his power as a public official against Lopez and to dissuade witnesses in the days following the Dec. 31 incident, but Mirkarimi denied that, saying he was busy with the transition from serving as supervisor to being sworn in as sheriff on Jan. 8.

    "It was chaotic, there was a lot of moving going on," he said. Mirkarimi's testimony will resume on Friday morning and is expected to be followed by the mayor, who Ethics Commission chair Benedict Hur estimated would begin testifying by late morning.

    Under the city charter, the commission is tasked with holding hearings on the administrative charges and collecting evidence and will eventually make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on whether to remove Mirkarimi from office or reinstate him as sheriff.

    Before Mirkarimi's testimony tonight -- which lasted a little under an hour -- the commission addressed other issues including the admissibility in the proceedings of a video of Lopez recorded by a neighbor, Ivory Madison, who later reported the incident to police.

    The commission agreed that the video should be admitted, and also discussed the potential live testimony of Lopez, who has since gone to her native Venezuela to care for her ill father. Lopez's attorney, Paula Canny, told the commission that Lopez is willing to provide live testimony in mid-July if the city pays for a roundtrip flight to the U.S.

    Hur brought up the possibility of Lopez testifying by a Skype live video feed, but Canny said live testimony would be preferable to better show "my client is credible and telling the truth." Lopez submitted a written declaration earlier this week defending Mirkarimi and denying any attempts at a cover-up by him.

    The decision on Lopez's testimony was tabled until the city attorney's office could talk to the mayor Friday about whether payment for a flight for her could be arranged. The commission will return to resume the hearing at 9 a.m. Friday at City Hall, with more hearings planned in July.

    Once the case goes to the Board of Supervisors, nine of the 11 supervisors would have to approve of ousting Mirkarimi from office. Mirkarimi served as a supervisor for seven years before being elected sheriff in November and taking office in January.