SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi disputed prosecutors' version of events that led to domestic violence charges against him, saying much of the case was a fabrication and he was the victim of politics.
Mirkarimi was accused of bruising the arm of his wife, Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez, during a dispute on New Year's Eve. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday he said he inadvertently bruised Lopez's arm in an effort to shield his son from her and guide her back into the passenger's seat of their car to calm a dispute.
He said the couple was arguing after Lopez said she wanted to take their 2-year-old son to Venezuela for an extended stay. The boy "panicked" when Lopez left the car and tried to get him out of his car seat, Mirkarimi said, explaining he reached over to put his hand underneath her arm to bring her back into the seat.
"I thought I was being a father," he said. "I was trying to remedy the situation."
Mirkarimi said his guilty plea to false imprisonment stemmed from his turning the car around against the wishes of Lopez, but he insisted he never kept her from leaving their home as District Attorney George Gascon contended.
Mirkarimi said the dispute was finished by the time the couple got home, and Lopez later went grocery shopping.
A neighbor made a videotape of Lopez describing the alleged New Year's Eve incident and displaying the bruise. The tape was key evidence in the case against Mirkarimi.
The sheriff disputed much of what Lopez said in the video, as described in court documents. He said the couple had never previously had a physical altercation, and that he never told Lopez that he could take the boy away from her because he is a powerful man. Mirkarimi says he actually told Lopez that California has powerful custody laws.
Lopez has supported her husband, denying any abuse took place.
In a statement, Gascon said the evidence against Mirkarimi was overwhelming.
"Ross Mirkarimi physically assaulted his wife and restrained her liberty, leaving a very large bruise on her arm," Gascon said. "His failure to take responsibility for what really happened is both disturbing and telling."
Mirkarimi had been charged with domestic violence, child endangerment and dissuading a witness before pleading guilty to false imprisonment.
Mirkarimi also spoke on Wednesday on KQED's "Forum" program, where he fought back tears and said politics played a role in the case.
"Do I think politics is involved?" he said. "You can't deny it."
Peter Keane, a law professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, said Mirkarimi should have spoken sooner to gain public support and that his 11th-hour media blitz is likely too little, too late.
"Now he's trying to frantically backpedal in an open way with the public at large and the media to undo what he did," Keane said. "Had he done this three months ago I think he could've had a chance."
The interviews come as Mirkarimi faces administrative misconduct charges and is fighting his suspension by Mayor Ed Lee in court. A judge ruled on Thursday that City Attorney Dennis Herrera can continue representing Lee in the matter.
Mirkarimi had argued that Herrera had a conflict of interest because he was advising Lee and two other city entities in the matter.