Suspended San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and Eliana Lopez sit down with Raj Mathai for a one-on-one interview.
Suspended San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is trying to rebuild his life at home following a New Year's Eve argument with his wife which ended with him bruising her arm and jeopardizing his career.
Mirkarimi and his wife, Eliana Lopez, agreed to their first joint interview since he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment.
Here is Raj Mathai's full exclusive interview with Ross Mirkarimi and Eliana Lopez.
Raj Mathai: Your son has been back with you for about a week now.
Ross Mirkarimi: Oh yeah. I just Savor every moment. Oh my god.
Raj: What have you missed?
Ross: His birthday. The fact that he has gone from speaking English as a two year old to now speaking fluent Spanish. He’s a toddler. He’s my little big boy. He’s big for three. We’re incredibly close and it was really hard for us to be apart.
Raj: You smile now, obviously you have your family in tact now but what was the most difficult part?
Ross: Being apart, everything fell apart. My life, our lives felt destroyed. I used to take great pride in my ability to provide for my family and being able to look forward to a future together that all disappeared. I try to find resolve and resilience, and I feel inspired by our ability to reunite, which is one of the reasons why I've hung in there, we’ve hung in there.
Raj: Where does the blame go? Is this a political witch hunt?
Ross: It’s not an easy question to answer. I take full responsibility for everything that has occurred and I have taken responsibility, which is why as early as I possibly could, based on unfolding of this process in the courts and then in the civil arena, every step of the way I wanted people to know that Ross Mirkarimi is a husband father, and elected public servant. I wanted to be in front to explain as best as I could, as best as I was advised to, which was a very unfamiliar process to me being on this side of the criminal justice system as to how we need to move forward. But I never expected this level of severity, the way it has been personalized the dehumanizing of Eliana and my family in order for the mayor and allies to further their gain in order to oust me from office. That is where it segways into politics.
Raj: Can the sheriff do this job with this on his record?
Ross: Absolutely and it’s important to not fall prey to very old or conventional ways of thinking in the criminal justice system, which in many ways is counter-intuitive to be scarred and disqualified. I think the right example is by showing one can turn their lives around and still be able to be that elected official. It does not disqualify from me being Sheriff. That’s why I took the plea, to put the matter behind us.. so I could regroup and reunite with my family, so I could regroup with the people of San Francisco. We talk a good game about restorative justice. We talk a good game about rehab. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d become an example of this in this respect. I think it’s time that there is leadership that shows and delivers on what rehabilitation means.
Raj: Is there a difference in degree than a bruise on the arm or something of greater significance or bigger injury that you would be on this side explaining it as you are?
Ross: It could be a difference of degree, but I think that ‘s something that needs to be processed and analyzed and I think the city really is on the verge of a constitutional crisis in the way they would undermine the voter’s will.
Raj: Is there a grudge against you in City Hall.
Ross: I don’t know if there’s a grudge. All I know is I’ve been a public servant for 17 years, 7 years as the board of supervisors. I was extremely outspoken. When I think government hasn't worked as well for the people I haven't been shy about speaking to that reality and I think that's offended people along the way.
Raj: By your own admission you’re not that guy that shakes hands, hey lets go to lunch and had all these allies. Has that hurt you at city all what you’re going through right now?
Ross: It’s not been my style. I’ve never been a click, cliquish kind of guy and I probably could have learned from that. I believe in local government. If anything if I’ve learned in all this madness is sometimes I’ve put the job first before my family. I didn’t always have my family in mind the way I should have. I Will never make that mistake again.
Raj: Would you describe yourself as abrasive sometimes in terms of politically speaking?
Ross: I could be. I think I could be but I think if anything I’m a sharpshooter. I mean I went right to what should have happened, I tried to be as inclusive as I possibly could. I’m a grassroots kind of a guy. I’m not a machine guy. I’m not that kind of dude.
Raj: Eliana, what's been the most hurtful part for you?
Eliana Lopez: To see your son miss his dad so much, that is painful for me and that was wrong.
Raj Eliana, you were talking or have talked about divorce before this whole thing. Has this whole episode brought you together or has it torn apart your family even more?
Eliana: When we said we wee talking about divorce, it’s not like we were contemplating let’s divorce. Never had that happened. When I said that I said I needed to know as an immigrant, where we are. We were never at that point oh yes let’s divorce, no that never happened. One of the gifts we are stronger. I have no absolute doubts that we are a family. I think that’s a strong feeling inside me, and inside Ross, and inside Theo. So we are a family, and that’s why we have to be together and that’s why we are facing everything. This is wrong.
Raj: Your neighbor is here. Have you talked to her? What would you like to tell her?
Eliana: I don’t want to tell her anything to her. I think the message is the people in San Francisco. We are not perfect. He is not perfect.I’m not either. I’m not either. They say he doesn’t take responsibility. What do they want? They want to cut his hand off. When is going to be enough? I just can’t understand all this hate, against us. For what? He never tried to really hurt me. He made a mistake. Fine. Let’s move on. He is a great public servant. We are a family that wants to be together. That is my message. You think this is helping me? Or helping Theo?
Raj: As a sheriff, you work with domestic abuse victims. Is there irony in all of this. Are you part of the problem in all of this?
Ross: I like to believe I’m part of the solution and forward thinking. We should not fall prey to old counter-intuitive thinking of the old criminal justice system.
Raj: Excuse me it sounds more like a political sound bite. Just me and you straight forward. Is there irony in what you’re doing.?
Ross: I think there is a level of empathy that I’m also enhanced by that would make me even more of an effective sheriff.
Raj: How effective will you be if you can get your job back?
Ross Extremely effective. Everybody that knows me knows how hard working I am.
Eliana Why are they putting all this power, just without pay? He’s not paid. We are just a family fighting a case that is more than a million dollars against us is the full power over the family. Why?
Ross: By removing an independent politically elected Sheriff from office, the second largest department in the city, the net effect is you consolidate power in a way that I think would be a horrible precedent for this city or any city.
Raj Tell me about the conversation with Mayor Lee in his office. Ross: It was not much of a conversation at all Raj: What would he tell me? Ross: Well I think he tried to explain during the ethics commission but a bomb scare interrupted some of that. He would have made the conversation sound like there was not much of a conversation. There wasn’t much of one in his mind quite frankly, and in my mind the conversation would have ended literally within 20 to 30 seconds if I hadn’t continued to ask him questions.
Raj: Are they coming after you in your with domestic violence or a political vendetta?
Ross: No I think they’re using the vehicle of what I pleaded to as to why we would have saved five months. The whole reason I took the plea, took responsibility so our family could regroup and move forward as a city, as a family, and as a department. How they’ve all come at this is vicious and mean spirited. Even though people just like to equate this is just politics of San Francisco, it’s a whole new level.
Eliana: As an actress, in America people always recognize me, but now in this situation, and after me personally how I feel like they’re trying to destroy me and dismiss me no she has battery syndrome, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
Raj: In two months are you going to have your job back?
Ross: We’ll see. I think it’s unfortunate that this level of pressure gets put on former colleagues of mine on the board of supervisors. They are going to politicize it to the point were they’re going to be put in a very, very difficult position. I’ve always been very sensitive to that.
Raj: If you don’t get your job back, will you work again in San Francisco?
Ross: Plan B or Plan C is for another interview. Eliana: But we are a family, We love each other we have a beautiful son.
Raj: Are you worried a Plan B is right around the corner.
Ross: Oh naturally. Every single day I’ve been thinking about what is the prospect of not having my job. I mean we have been without income, myself, it’s easier for Eliana in Venezuela to gain work, to live with the reality that I can’t provide for my family, to cope every day its been a coping session on savings that have been evaporated by all this.
Eliana: But we are confident that justice will prevail and I think all the support we receive in the street, I think the supervisors will receive the same message and democracy will prevail and justice will prevail Ross is going to be a fantastic Sheriff.