The SFPD compounded the drama Friday surrounding the February 22 death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi and the leaked police report about the details of his death when they raided the home of a freelance journalist in an effort to find the source of the leak.
Freelance "stringer" Bryan Carmody says he will sue the SFPD if he doesn't get back the belongings that were taken from him in the raid Friday, as KQED reports. And the case has drawn national attention, in particular from the Washington Post, given the significance of law enforcement raiding the home of a journalist.
The SFPD reportedly took cell phones, cameras, and computers from Carmody's home, and ultimately found the full police report in a safe.
Members of the department arrived at Carmody's Outer Richmond home Friday morning, armed with a sledgehammer and a search warrant. As the Examiner reports, the warrant was issued by San Francisco Superior Court judges Victor Hwang and Gail Dekreon, and SFPD Chief Bill Scott has confirmed to Supervisor Sandra Fewer that the two judges were aware of Carmody's "journalistic background" when they issued the warrant.
Carmody was implicated by multiple journalists around San Francisco in February for allegedly trying to sell the leaked police report about the scene of Adachi's death. As SFist reported at the time, the report included lurid details about drugs (cocaine, cannabis gummies), and the woman Adachi was spending the night with (who was not his wife), and the leak appeared designed to disgrace Adachi in death, as well as his embarrass his family — a kind of payback after decades in which Adachi, in his role as public defender, had been a foe of the SFPD. ABC 7 seems to have bought the story from Carmody and was the first to air the details and publish photos from the scene.
The moral and professional ambiguity extends to Carmody himself, as it seems that the SFPD may have argued that his qualifications do not protect him as a journalist, and that he was peddling "stolen or embezzled material." The department is facing mounting political pressure to find the source of the leak and to hold the source accountable, following a hearing last month in which Adachi's widow emotionally excoriated the SFPD and calling them "despicable."
Nonetheless the raid may have been a step too far, and Carmody now has the sympathy of civil rights and First Amendment activists.
"It was unlawful and, frankly, pretty outrageous," says David Snyder of the First Amendment Coalition, speaking to KQED. Snyder says that while the credentials of journalists have been questioned at the federal level in cases where law enforcement tried to compel them to reveal sources, the state of California has far better protections under the Shield Law — making Carmody's case all the more concerning.
SF's new Public Defender Mano Raju issued a statement praising the SFPD's effort to "get to the bottom" of the leak, but as the Chronicle reports, Raju issued a clarification Monday saying, "I have no information regarding the justifications for the search conducted by police. Nothing about this statement should be interpreted as condoning specific police tactics in this matter."
Carmody has worked for 30 years a "stringer," or freelance videographer who only gets paid when news stations use footage that he provides to them. The night of Adachi's death, Carmody tells the Chronicle that he turned to police sources to find out where Adachi had died. The next morning, he obtained a copy of the police report from a source, and knew it might be valuable to news stations. He then proceeded to sell the report For $2,500 to three news stations which broadcast stories about it.
As one attorney tells the Chronicle, regardless of Carmody's being a freelancer, he was acting as a journalist and making his livelihood through journalistic means. That should mean he was protected under California's Shield Law.