Ross Mirkarimi, San Francisco’s new sheriff, took his oath Sunday amid news reports that he faced a police investigation for domestic violence for an alleged incident involving his wife, Eliana Lopez, in their home on New Year’s Eve.
Ivory Madison, a neighbor and the founder of Red Room, an online social network for writers, contacted the police four days after she said a bruised Lopez reached out to her for help on New Year’s Eve night, and Madison said she photographed Lopez’s injuries. Lopez denies that domestic violence occurred.
The District Attorney’s office is deciding whether to pursue charges in the case.
At a news conference following his swearing in Mirkarimi called the situation “a private matter. A family matter.”
Some victims’ advocates said the statement showed an insensitivity and lack of knowledge about the issue of domestic violence — especially troubling coming from someone in law enforcement — that could undermine efforts to deal with the problem.
“That’s what the whole movement has been about — to take it out of the realm of being a private family matter,” said Cherri Allison, executive director of the Alameda County Family Justice Center, which assists 12,000 new domestic violence victims annually.
Jim Stearns, a spokesman for Mirkarimi, said the sheriff was referring solely to his own situation. “I don’t think he was talking about every case of domestic violence,” Stearns said.
But using the expression “private matter” runs contrary to more than a century of efforts in the United States, through laws and public awareness, to ensure that “violence at home is treated the same as violence on the streets,” said Kathleen Krenek, executive director of Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence, which assists battered women in Santa Clara County.
To be clear, Sheriff Mirkarimi has not been found guilty of anything — if he were charged and convicted of a felony, he would be removed from office. But at the same Sunday news conference, his wife said that the situation had been “taken out of context and this is completely wrong.”
Regardless of how the inquiry turns out, Mirkarimi’s statements and the unusual circumstances surrounding the investigation have raised questions that could cast a shadow over the sheriff’s career.
News of the investigation first surfaced in The San Francisco Chronicle, reported by the political columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, rather than being announced by police or the district attorney’s office.
Following the newspaper’s report, Mirkarimi blamed, without citing specifics, political opponents who “are trying to stop me from becoming sheriff and using whatever they may want.”
However, the person who alerted the police, Madison, is a past political supporter of Mirkarimi. In October she held a fund-raiser for Mirkarimi, according to ActBlue, an online database of Democratic political action — information first reported Monday by the SF Weekly.
Madison, who is well-known in Bay Area literary circles for her Red Room site and is also the author of the “feminist-mafia-noir” graphic novel “Huntress: Year One,” declined to be interviewed.
But she said in an e-mail statement that she wished the attention was not focused on her. “I would have greatly preferred to keep my name completely out of this, since from my perspective, who I am is irrelevant to this situation,” she wrote. “I’m hoping that if I ignore all press inquiries, my involvement will become less prominent in the news coverage.”
That may prove difficult in such a high-profile situation where accusations were flying and motivations were being dissected, even before all the facts were known.
Those who know Mirkarimi, currently the most liberal citywide elected official, said the allegations of domestic violence are completely out of character.
“I was shocked when I read about it,” Evelyn Nieves, a journalist and a past partner of Mirkarimi’s, said in an e-mail. “Ross and I were together for the better part of a decade — eight years or so — and never once did he even come close to being physical during an argument.”
“It’s just not his way,” Nieves added. “He was way more prone to proposing that disagreements be talked out. He could talk and talk.”
And despite calling it a “private matter,” Mirkarimi faces the prospect of having to do much more talking.
This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.