San Francisco’s police chief, Bill Scott, sought to justify a controversial raid of a journalist’s home by saying police were investigating reporter Bryan Carmody as an “active participant” in a crime for leaking a police report about the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi earlier this year.
“We do believe that Mr. Carmody committed a crime and that’s what we are investigating,” Scott said in a news conference Tuesday.
Earlier this month, San Francisco police raided Carmody’s home after the freelance video reporter gave local television stations a copy of a police report into Adachi’s sudden death. The raid came after police asked Carmody for his source on the police report and he declined to provide it.
Local media and freedom of the press groups condemned the raid, with city District Attorney George Gascón joining the chorus of concerned voices Monday, saying he “can’t imagine a situation in which a search warrant would be appropriate.”
In justifying the search Tuesday, Scott said that “while we fully respect the First Amendment rights of journalists” the police had “probable cause” and that crimes “did occur.”
The police chief said investigators believe Carmody was “a suspect in a criminal conspiracy to steal the confidential report,” and their probe into Carmody and police department employees is ongoing. Scott said investigators view Carmody as a “possible co-conspirator in this theft rather than a passive recipient of a stolen document.”
“I’m speechless,” Carmody told the San Francisco Chronicle of the new allegation Tuesday. “I received a copy of the thing,” he added, noting he did not conspire to steal or pay for the report.
The criminal investigation into Carmody is “an outrageous abuse of police power,” said Press Freedom Defense Fund Director James Risen.
“It is dangerous to make [news] reporting a crime, and journalists criminals,” Risen told HuffPost Tuesday. “All American journalists should stand with Bryan Carmody.”
In the raid, officers beat on the outer gate of Carmody’s home with a sledgehammer, then handcuffed him once he opened it and entered his house to seize his items.
Gascón said that while his office had not seen the search warrant, one would only be appropriate if a journalist had broken the law to get the information that was leaked. He compared the “confidences” that journalists owe to their sources to the concept of attorney-client privilege.
“Barring some suspicion that Carmody committed an offense other than journalism, the police might as well have taken their sledgehammer to the United States Constitution,” the Chronicle’s editorial board wrote last week.
In justifying the raid as part of a criminal investigation into Carmody, Scott said police were looking at one of two motives for the journalist: damaging Adachi’s reputation ― he claimed Carmody had “expressed his disdain” for the public defender in an interview — or financial gain. Investigators are reportedly looking into whether police “conspired” with Carmody to profit from the stolen report by offering it for sale to local news outlets (part of Carmody’s job as a freelance journalist).
When reporters asked Tuesday how this allegation of “financial gain” was any different from Carmody’s job, which is to shoot video and provide it for a fee to outlets, Scott said, “We believe that the line was crossed.”
Scott acknowledged that there were “some lessons to be learned” from the raid of the reporter’s home and said the department of police accountability was doing an independent investigation of the incident.
Regarding the sledgehammer police used on Carmody’s gate, he said, “We know that looks bad.” The police are also reportedly returning items they seized from Carmody in the raid.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Sunday she was “not okay with police raids on reporters” after saying last week that she supported the judges’ decision to issue warrants allowing a search. In a series of tweets, the mayor maintained that she “[has] to believe” the judges’ decision was “legal and warranted,” but added that “the more we learn the less appropriate it looks to me.”
Public defender Adachi, 59, died on Feb. 22. His death was ruled accidental, with the San Francisco medical examiner saying it was caused by a mix of cocaine and alcohol in his system, combined with heart problems.