The freelance news videographer at the center of the Jeff Adachi death report scandal is filing a complaint Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court following a controversial May 10 raid at his home by the SFPD.
Freelance "stringer" Bryan Carmody, who makes his living showing up first to crime scenes and selling his video footage to local news stations (you may be familiar with the 2014 Jake Gyllenhaal film Nightcrawler?), stands accused by the SFPD of peddling a "stolen" police report — which was, he says, given to him by a source he has at the department. The report, along with footage Carmody shot outside the apartment where Public Defender Jeff Adachi died suddenly on February 22, led to unnecessarily lurid coverage of Adachi's death — something many saw as petty retaliation by the police who were often at odds with, or under investigation by Adachi over the years.
Under political pressure from the mayor and Board of Supervisors, the SFPD says it is trying to track down the leak in the department, which is why it obtained a search warrant to raid Carmody's apartment, sledgehammer in hand. While two judges signed off on the warrant, the actions by police have drawn national outrage due to the implications for freedom of the press, and the ability of journalists to protect their sources. And while some suggested that Carmody might not qualify as a "journalist," California's Shield Law should have protected him — and an editorial last week by Chronicle editor-in-chief Audrey Cooper points out both that Carmody had a hard-to-obtain SFPD press pass, and that the Chronicle was not raided despite their having obtained the same police report, possibly from the same source.
As the Associated Press reports today, Carmody's complaint argues that "the free flow of information to the public is jeopardized" when such raids are allowed to happen. The AP will also be filing an amicus brief in the case on Carmody's behalf — many other news organizations and first-amendment advocates are likely to follow suit. Update: The AP reports that an attorney for the SFPD told the court Tuesday that Carmody would get all of his possessions back.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon came out against the SFPD raid on Twitter on Monday, saying he "can’t imagine a situation in which a search warrant would be appropriate" for such an action. "My office has not seen the warrant or the facts upon which it was based," he said, "[But] 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."
My office has not seen the warrant or the facts upon which it was based, but absent a showing that a journalist broke the law to obtain the information that police are looking for, I can’t imagine a situation in which a search warrant would be appropriate.https://t.co/B8k3VawoFL— George Gascón (@GeorgeGascon) May 20, 2019
Even if there were such a showing, however, no search should have been conducted without the use of a special master. Journalists have multiple sources to whom they owe confidences, similar to an attorney who has multiple clients to whom they owe attorney-client privilege.— George Gascón (@GeorgeGascon) May 20, 2019
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.— George Gascón (@GeorgeGascon) May 20, 2019
Mayor London Breed, who initially stood behind SFPD Chief Bill Scott's defense of the raid, walked back her support on Sunday, saying, "I want the SFPD to get to the bottom of this. But I am not okay with police raids on reporters. We need to do better."