- Associated Press - Monday, March 19, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP)— Embattled San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on Monday was sentenced to three years’ probation and must participate in a domestic-violence program after pleading guilty to false imprisonment in a closely watched case that has gripped this city for nearly three months.

The sentencing for the misdemeanor came a week after he pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal with prosecutors to likely avoid embarrassing testimony and jurors possibly seeing a video of his wife, Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez, tearfully discussing the incident during a trial.

Sheriff Mirkarimi initially was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness. He could have faced a year in prison if convicted of those charges. Instead, he pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of false imprisonment. The move came after a round of pretrial testimony about his love life and images released of his tearful wife with the bruised bicep.

District Attorney George Gascon, however, has expressed concern that he’s not convinced Sheriff Mirkarimi really believes he is guilty of the crime.

Under the agreement, Sheriff Mirkarimi will pay a $400 fine, receive three years of probation, a mandatory year in a domestic violence intervention program, community service and counseling.

“For the last two months, this case has caused my family, my department — the Sheriff’s Department — and this city, great turmoil, pain and disappointment,” Sheriff Mirkarimi told reporters last week. “This plea allows us to move forward.

“As I have, and I intend to return to the business of running one of the finest sheriff’s departments in the nation, of mending my family and raising my son, Theo, in a safe and happy home.”

But Mr. Gascon told the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board late last week that statements Sheriff Mirkarimi has made to reporters about his mounting legal bills — $125,000 and counting — along with intense media coverage had been taking a toll on his family and was a considerable factor to take the plea deal.

Sheriff Mirkarimi originally asked for a speedy trial.

“There is a guilty plea here, and I know there’s almost an attempt to deny that this has occurred: ‘I didn’t really do this.’ ‘I’m being forced to do this.’ That’s very concerning to me, to be very honest with you,” Mr. Gascon told the newspaper.

Sheriff Mirkarimi’s attorney, Lidia Stiglich, said her client has unconditionally accepted responsibility for the incident.

Sheriff Mirkarimi still could face political repercussions, since Mayor Ed Lee has said he’s considering whether to attempt to remove the sheriff from office.

Prosecutors say Sheriff Mirkarimi, 50, bruised the arm of Ms. Lopez, 36, during an argument in front of their toddler son at their San Francisco home on New Year’s Eve.

The next day, Ms. Lopez told her neighbor, Ivory Madision, who recorded a video in which Ms. Lopez, a former telenovela star, tearfully describes the alleged incident and a bruise on her right bicep.

Ms. Lopez’s lawyers argued to no avail that the video should be withdrawn as evidence because she thought Ms. Madison was a lawyer and it was made under the assumption of attorney-client privilege. Ms. Madison graduated from law school but is not a licensed lawyer.

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