SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco's new sheriff pleaded not guilty to domestic violence and other charges Thursday as a judge ordered him to stay away from his wife and toddler son despite her tearful pleas not to keep the family apart.
Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's lawyer, Robert Waggener, entered the pleas during an arraignment in San Francisco Superior Court, where Mirkarimi, 50, is also charged with child endangerment and dissuading a witness after a New Year's Eve incident with Lopez at their home.
Judge Susan Breall issued a stay-away order requiring Mirkarimi not to have any contact with his wife, Eliana Lopez, or their 2-year-old son.
"The violence against me is that I don't have my family together," Lopez said repeatedly in court. "Let me have my family together. This is the only reason I am here is that I have my family with Ross."
Lopez, 36, a former Venezuelan telenovela star, also told the judge that she is not some "poor little immigrant," and added, "I'm not afraid of my husband at all."
Mirkarimi, who did not speak during Thursday's hearing, could be seen taking his glasses off and wiping away tears during Lopez's testimony.
Breall said she found Lopez to be strong, engaging and "quite charming." But the judge said that based on an arrest warrant affidavit that contains "physical and emotional abuse," a stay-away order was still necessary.
"I believe Eliana when she says the sheriff is a good person and a loving father. I absolutely believe that," Breall said. "I believe Eliana never wanted this to go to this extreme and to end up in court.
"This is still a volatile situation. The affidavit shows a volatile situation."
During the frenzied two-hour hearing, prosecutor Elizabeth Aguilar-Tarchi argued that the stay-away order was requested because of the charges and not because of Mirkarimi's status.
Waggener said he was disappointed with the judge's ruling.
"I don't think there was a basis for a stay-away order. I don't think the proper decision was made. We'll come back and we'll fight it," Waggener said. "Mr. Mirkarimi did not commit domestic violence, he did not endanger his child, and he did not try to dissuade his wife from talking to the police or anybody else. That's the bottom line."
Mirkarimi is due in court again Monday to set a trial date and again on Jan. 26 to request a modification of the stay-away order.
According to the arrest affidavit released Tuesday, Mirkarimi is alleged to have mistreated his wife on two separate occasions last year and to have told her he was a "very powerful" man who could take away their son.
Lopez appeared on a Jan. 1 videotape candidly discussing the Dec. 31 confrontation and another incident earlier last year, according to the affidavit.
The footage was shot by a neighbor, Ivory Madison, whose call to police prompted an investigation. Lopez is crying and visibly upset about the couple's run-in the day before, the affidavit said, and she points to a bruise on her right bicep where she said Mirkarimi grabbed her.
"This happened yesterday," Lopez tells the camera. "Two times in 2011, and this is the second time this is happening."
Madison eventually told police investigators what Lopez had relayed to her but would not surrender the videotape. Police obtained it and other evidence through a search warrant.
Investigators from the district attorney's office later found another neighbor who gave an account similar to Madison's and said Lopez described Mirkarimi as "going ballistic." The neighbor also said the couple's son told his mother, "Daddy made boo-boo on Mommy's arm."
Lopez married Mirkarimi after having their first child in 2009. She said in court Thursday that her son woke up early in the morning asking for his father and she promised that he would be home Friday.
She was wearing a shirt she said her son had decorated that read, "I want Daddy back."
Meanwhile, several domestic violence groups have called for Mirkarimi to either step aside temporarily until the case is closed or resign.
Mirkarimi, who was sworn in as sheriff nearly two weeks ago after serving two terms as a San Francisco supervisor, said he has no intention of leaving his new post.
However, he could face up to a year in jail if he's convicted.