EXCLUSIVE: Mirkarimi on scandal that rocked his marriage, career
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is fighting for his job, and for his family, by giving his first in-depth television interview about the domestic violence scandal to the ABC7 News I-Team. And, he's responding to our interview with his wife, Eliana Lopez. I traveled to Caracas, Venezuela to talk to her exclusively.
Mirkarimi has lost his income, his wife is gone, so is his son, and it all started with what he admits was a big mistake on New Year's Eve.
I started the interview by playing the video we shot on Saturday in Venezuela of Mirkarimi's 3-year-old son, Theo. He hasn't seen the boy in person in more than a month.
The sheriff kept his composure until he saw his wife hugging their boy. "She's gorgeous," he said tearfully.
Mirkarimi hasn't seen Eliana or had a substantive conversation with her since Jan. 13, when the court issued a protective order. It's something neither Mirkarimi nor Lopez wanted. "The system wouldn't allow us to go to counseling together. I can't provide. I'm dying to be able to reunite and repair and rebuild," he said. "I want our son to have his parents together."
"We have our problems as a marriage that we have to deal with that," Lopez said when we met with her in Venezuela. "I wanted to deal with that in a healthy way."
The couple's had a long-running disagreement over Lopez returning to Venezuela so often -- she was homesick and Mirkarimi worked too much. But it boiled over New Year's Eve on the way to get pizza for lunch. The argument grew so intense, Mirkarimi turned the family van around and headed 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?
"We have a minivan and so she was kind of mid-door out, so she was half in and half out of the car and I was still in the driver seat, seat-belted, so I didn't even get full -- my ability to just maybe a few fingers around her arm to say, 'Come on back,'" Mirkarimi said.
A neighbor, Ivory Madison, shot a video of Lopez's bruise and called police. Lopez says she feels betrayed by Madison.
Lopez: I was shocked, of course. I was like, what?
Noyes: Were you angry at her or--?
Lopez: No, in that moment I was so confused. I was like, you don't have my permission.
Madison refused my request for an interview, but a statement from her attorney reads in part, "Ms. Lopez never suggested confidentiality, she asked for help from others."
Mirkarimi plea-bargained down the misdemeanor domestic violence charges to false imprisonment. Mayor Ed Lee suspended him without pay and ordered an Ethics Commission investigation to try and fire Mirkarimi.
"They've gone too far," Mirkarimi said. "The punishment doesn't fit the crime."
Mirkarimi says a low-level misdemeanor case has turned into a political circus.
Noyes: Why should you remain the sheriff?
Mirkarimi: Well, I -- because I can be the most effective sheriff, I think, that this city would be proud of, and I think one of the most effective sheriffs, if not the most effective sheriff in the United States.
Mirkarimi sees his son each day by Skype. The ordeal has had a serious effect on the boy, both emotionally and physically. We'll have more on that part of the story tonight at 11 p.m. on ABC7 News. Plus, you'll see more of our frank discussion with Lopez and her husband, and we'll ask her the question that many people are wondering about: is she ever coming back to San Francisco?
ross mirkarimi, domestic violence, eliana lopez, i-team, dan noyes
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