EXCLUSIVE: Eliana Lopez tells her side of the story
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The wife of embattled San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has granted her first interview to the ABC7 News I-Team, and she's not holding back.
Eliana Lopez answers all my questions in this two-part report, and talks about the domestic violence case that may cost the sheriff his job, what led to the angry quarrel, and whether she will ever come back to San Francisco.
Caracas, Venezuela is a world away from the scandal that has consumed Mirkarimi and Lopez. She's come to Venezuela with their 3-year-old son to escape the spotlight, to be with her family, and to consider her future.
"Maybe I will get divorced with Ross, but I am very close with him in this fight," she says. "This is about justice."
After years of acting on stage, television and film, Lopez became an activist. She met Mirkarimi at an environmental summit in Brazil. "He was following me during the conference," she says laughingly.
It was a quick romance -- both were ready to start a family. She gave birth to a son, Theo, at home in San Francisco. She had so many adjustments to make -- a new culture, new language, and a husband who worked long days as supervisor and then campaigned for sheriff.
Lopez: For me has been the most painful thing ... don't be close to my family, sharing my motherhood, that is--"
Noyes: You were wanting to come back to Venezuela to share your motherhood, did that bring tension between you and Ross?
Lopez: I think so.
Noyes: It clearly means a lot to you.
The tensions came to a head this past New Year's Eve when the family headed out for a pizza lunch. They argued about Lopez wanting to visit her family once again.
Security was also a big concern for Mirkarimi. There have been a series of high-profile kidnappings in Caracas, and the son of a well-known actress and an American politician could be a target.
Lopez said the argument got so heated, that Mirkarimi turned the van around to head back home.
Lopez: And then we came back home and I say, 'OK, we cannot talk,' and he grabbed my arm and in the first moment I say, 'Stop.' He stop it. He react like, 'Oh my gosh,' and I said, 'OK, let's go inside.'"
Noyes: He got it, he understood that he shouldn't touch you, he let go--
Lopez: He immediately ... when I said, 'stop,' he stopped.
Noyes: Now, I want to understand, at any point were you afraid for your safety?
Lopez: No. never, never.
Noyes: Were you ever afraid for Theo's safety?
Mirkarimi was especially upset when Lopez told him she had been talking to a divorce attorney about her custody rights.
Noyes: But, did it come to that, were you actually thinking it was over?
Lopez: I didn't think it was over, but I was getting prepared for maybe if we don't looking for help, maybe we will end in a divorce or yes.
The next day, Lopez says her neighbor, Ivory Madison, offered advice and implied she was a lawyer. In fact, Madison's bio on her publishing website says, "trained as an attorney, Madison was editor in chief of her law review, interned at the California Supreme Court, and served as a law fellow."
But Lopez didn't know Madison was not licensed to practice law in California when she suggested making a video of the bruise Mirkarimi gave her.
"She represent herself as a lawyer," says Lopez. "She used the words 'this is confidential, this is your property, this is going to be safe here. You cannot have this evidence with you' and 'this confidential to use just in case Ross wants to take Theo from you.'"
Several days later, Madison broke the news that she called police. She also turned over the video.
"I came out of the house because I was looking for the car and I was in my cellphone and then and I found her in front of me, telling me, 'Eliana, you are going to kill me. I called the police. They are coming here and you have to talk with them,'" says Lopez.
Lopez is still fighting the video's release, so she's hesitant to comment on its contents. But court documents show on the recording she says, "This is the second time this is happening."
Noyes: What did you mean by that? Did he do this before? Did he grab you before?"
Lopez: No, no, no.
Lopez told the I-Team she was referring to their last big argument the year before when they discussed divorce.
Mirkarimi was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness. He plea-bargained to a lesser charge of false imprisonment.
Mayor Ed Lee is now pushing the Ethics Commission to remove Mirkarimi as sheriff. Lopez believes politics are playing a huge role, that people in power are coming after her husband because of his bright future.
"They want to bar him to run for office for life, for me that sounds fascist, she says. "Really, for grab my arm?"
Wednesday at 6 p.m. on ABC7 News, Mirkarimi gives the I-Team his first television interview about the scandal, and he reacts to his wife's words. He hasn't had any sort of real conversation with Lopez since Jan. 13 because of a restraining order that's still in place.
Then at 11 p.m. on ABC7 News, we go deeper into that video, discuss the impact on the family and the question that's on everyone's mind: Is Lopez ever coming back to San Francisco?
ross mirkarimi, domestic violence, eliana lopez, i-team, dan noyes
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