From staff and wire reports
San Francisco’s police chief yesterday (May 21) acknowledged the uproar over the raids of a reporter’s home and office by sledgehammer-wielding police officers.
Chief William Scott said that in hindsight the department could have done things differently and will strive to learn from its mistakes.
“We respect the news media,” he said. “We have to own what we own and move forward, and try to get better at what we do.”
Scott’s comments came after a court hearing where police agreed to return the cameras, computers and other items taken from the home of freelance reporter Bryan Carmody.
Police allege a ‘conspiracy’
But Scott said that Carmody “crossed a line” by joining a conspiracy to steal a confidential police report about the Feb. 22 death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who had cocaine in his system and died in the presence of a woman who wasn’t his wife.
The leak infuriated city supervisors. They scolded police for anonymously releasing the report to the press, saying it was an attempt to smear the legacy of Adachi, who was an outspoken critic of police.
Carmody is refusing to divulge the source of his report. He sold stories based on the report to three TV stations, Channels 2, 7 and 11.
Scott yesterday didn’t offer any evidence of his claim that Carmody was involved in a conspiracy to steal the report.
Scott said the primary target of the ongoing investigation is the employee who may have furnished the report to Carmody. But investigators do not know the source’s identity. Scott said the secondary focus is on Carmody, who may have been motivated by profit or a desire to tarnish Adachi’s reputation, or both.
DA condemns police search
District Attorney George Gascon, whose office would normally be responsible for possibly prosecuting Carmody, condemned the police. He said he has not seen the search warrants for Carmody’s home and office, which are sealed, but he could not imagine a situation where warrants would be appropriate.
“Seizing the entire haystack to find the needle risks violating the confidences Mr. Carmody owes to all his sources, not just the person who leaked the police report,” Gascon said.
Carmody’s attorney, Thomas Burke, declined to comment. Carmody did not respond to an email request for comment.
He said on Twitter that he was pleased with the return of his equipment but he will have to replace numerous cameras, cellphones and computers for security reasons. A GoFundMe campaign has raised nearly $15,000 for him.
Shield law violation
Media organizations across the country criticized the May 10 raids as a violation of California’s shield law, which specifically protects journalists from search warrants. The case will soon return to court. Carmody’s attorney and media organizations have asked to unseal warrant materials and revoke the search warrants. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng has not ruled yet on those requests, but he set deadlines for further filings.
When police arrived at Carmody’s home, officers had a sledgehammer, and they cuffed him for hours. The police chief said Carmody was cuffed because of the possibility he might have firearms in the house.
Mayor changes her tune
Mayor London Breed initially defended the raids but on Sunday posted messages on Twitter saying she was “not OK” with raids on reporters.
People who want to crack down on journalists come in all political stripes, said Jim Wheaton, founder of the First Amendment Project, a public interest law firm.
“They went after him because he’s all by himself,” Wheaton said. “And the fact that he sells the materials that he packages. He puts together a journalism report including documents and sells it. That’s what journalism is.”