SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said Friday that he would find it "extremely difficult" to work again with Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi if the suspended lawman gets his job back.
Lee made his remarks while testifying before the city's Ethics Commission, which has convened a trial-like hearing to determine whether to recommend that the Board of Supervisors remove Mirkarimi from office.
The mayor cited Mirkarimi with misconduct and suspended him without pay in March, shortly after the sheriff pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment for bruising his wife's arm during a New Year's Eve dispute.
Lee told the five-member ethics panel that he suspended Mirkarimi because of the significance of the role of sheriff as one of the top law enforcement positions in the city.
He said he gave Mirkarimi the option to resign or face suspension.
Mirkarimi took a plea deal and avoided trial two months after he pleaded not guilty to child endangerment and multiple domestic violence charges.
"I came to the conclusion that he committed domestic violence," Lee said, adding that Mirkarimi's brief stay in the jail he runs and subsequent plea helped him make his decision.
On Thursday, Mirkarimi testified to the commission that he believes in redemption and that a sheriff such as himself can lead a strong example of redeeming behavior.
On Friday, Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser asked Lee if he thought he could get past Mirkarimi's conviction so they could work together effectively.
"It would be extremely difficult," Lee said.
Mirkarimi's attorney, Shepard Kopp, later asked Lee if he was telling the commission he could not work with Mirkarimi in the same vein as he does with City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who ran against him for mayor last year.
"Are you telling the commission that you refuse to carry out your duties?" Kopp asked Lee.
"I'm not going to refrain from any of my duties," Lee replied.
Kopp later asked Lee if the mayor could put aside his differences and work with the embattled sheriff if the proceedings fail to remove Mirkarimi from office.
"Yes," Lee said.
When asked later if he thought Lee was truthful, Kopp said, "I leave that for others to decide."
Lee's testimony was halted for about 90 minutes Friday after police received an apparent threat of car bombs near City Hall and another undisclosed building, authorities said. No devices were discovered.
Earlier Friday, Mirkarimi testified as city attorneys alleged he directed his wife, Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez, and his campaign manager, Linnette Peralta Haynes, to dissuade a neighbor from talking about the alleged domestic violence.
The neighbor, Ivory Madison, had recorded a video of a tearful Lopez discussing the purported abuse. She later gave the video to police.
Mirkarimi told Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith that after learning police were investigating the incident, he remembered telling Lopez that she'd have to follow through with the process and couldn't "un-ring the bell."
Mirkarimi's woes began when he and Lopez became involved in an argument over whether she could travel to her native Venezuela with their 3-year-old son.
Mirkarimi admitted to bruising her arm with an overly firm grip. After pleading guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment, Mirkarimi was sentenced to probation and counseling.
Keith attempted to establish the city's claim that Mirkarimi knowingly committed a crime against his wife well before he was charged.
"Don't you think the honorable thing to do would've been to resign?" Keith asked the sheriff.
Mirkarimi replied, "That's a hard question and that's a hard one to answer. ... I did exactly as I should."
Mirkarimi told the commission later that, in hindsight, he wishes he had a better strategy to deal with the media and subsequent fallout from his actions.
"It was an overwhelming event and continued to be an overwhelming event in the way I was branded," Mirkarimi said. "I was sad, humiliated. I lost my family," he said.
"My past was tarnished and sullied and my future uncertain. I certainly wished we were more on top of this."
Kopp said afterward that he felt Mirkarimi was able to dispel some innuendos and that he hopes to have Peralta Haynes and Lopez — who has been in Venezuela the last several months — testify when the hearing resumes next month.
The commission will then forward its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which needs the votes of nine of 11 members to remove Mirkarimi from office.