By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A divided San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to reinstate Ross Mirkarimi to his elected post as sheriff late on Tuesday after he was suspended by the mayor following a domestic-abuse conviction.
The vote to return Mirkarimi's badge came after a nearly year-long political firestorm within San Francisco over a New Year's Eve quarrel with his wife, Venezuelan soap opera actress Eliana Lopez, that turned violent.
Mirkarimi, a co-founder of California's Green Party, watched during five hours of emotional public testimony from more than 100 of his supporters who called for him to stay, and about 15 domestic-violence advocates who called for his ouster.
The board's 7-4 vote was two votes shy of what was needed to strip him of his elected position.
"The system worked in this case," Mirkarimi, 51, said after the vote. "It took a long way to get here. The next step is mending fences and moving forward."
Many of the speakers told supervisors how Mirkarimi had become a voice of the voiceless in the community, showing up at homicide scenes in the middle of the night.
"Ross is the jewel in the crown of San Francisco," said Ursula McGuire, 76, who spoke from her wheelchair. "I want you to reinstate the jewel."
Domestic-violence advocates urged the board to oust the sheriff.
"If reinstated, Ross Mirkarimi would represent San Francisco's tolerance of domestic-violence crimes," said Katharine Berg, associate director of La Casa de las Madres, a Bay area women's shelter.
Mirkarimi had launched a legal case seeking reinstatement to his post and his salary. He said he could not be removed for official misconduct because his offense occurred more than a week before he took office as sheriff.
In a cellphone video a neighbor recorded the day after the argument, a tearful Lopez, 36, pointed to a bruise on her arm and said her husband had grabbed it with such force that he left it black and blue.
Lopez testified before a city ethics panel that the neighbor convinced her to document the bruise in case she and Mirkarimi separated. Lopez said she feared her status as an immigrant could cost her custody of her son if they separated.
Lopez refused to testify against her husband and has stood by him, though a family court judge only recently allowed the couple to reunite after seven months apart.
San Francisco's district attorney charged Mirkarimi on January 13, five days after his installation as sheriff, with misdemeanor counts of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness.
He struck a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to a single, lesser charge, and was sentenced to a day in jail and three years of probation.
But the mayor said Mirkarimi's conduct was a violation of the public trust and his role as a law enforcement officer.
The city's ethics commission voted 4-1 in August that Mirkarimi committed official misconduct.
(Editing by Mary Slosson and Andrew Heavens)