Attorney Tom Burke, right, speaks about his client, journalist Bryan Carmody, left, during a discussion on the May 2019 SFPD raid on Carmody’s home and office following the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi. The two spoke at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism in San Francisco on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Free speech group sues city over raids on journalist

Free speech advocates filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to force the San Francisco Police Department and Mayor London Breed to hand over information on the May 10 raids on the home and office of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody.

A total of five warrants were issued to investigate Carmody— including three warrants to monitor his phone records — in relation to a leaked police report containing salacious details of late San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s death. All five have since been voided after the San Francisco judges who initially signed them ruled that the raids violated legal protections for journalists.

On Tuesday, the First Amendment Coalition, which for months has called for the warrants to be quashed and unsealed, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court under the California Public Records Act and the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance to “vindicate the public’s right to understand the political and law-enforcement processes that led to the now infamous police raid,” per court documents.

Quashing the warrants ensures that none of the evidence obtained as a result of their issuance can be used in the future.

The group alleges that it has made a “series of public records requests” since June to elicit details about the investigation into Adachi’s Feb. 22 death and the source of the leaked report, but received “inadequate” and “incomplete” responses from The City.

“City leaders have made an awful situation worse by stonewalling our requests for records related to the Carmody debacle,” FAC Executive Director David Snyder said in a statement Tuesday. “They have already violated the constitutional rights of a journalist, and now they are refusing to give the public key communications about the decision-making that led to these actions.”

The leaked report, which placed Adachi in a Telegraph Hill apartment with a woman who was not his wife at the time of his death, generated outrage and political pressure to identify the source of leak from City Hall. Carmody, a freelance cameraman, obtained the report and sold it to three television stations.

On May 10, police searching for the name of Carmody’s informant showed up at his residence with a sledgehammer, detained him in handcuffs and seized his video equipment. First Amendment advocates and Carmody’s lawyers have condemned the raids as a breach of Carmody’s protections under the California Shield Law, which protects journalists from revealing confidential sources.

The lawsuit accuses Breed’s office of producing no records requested by the group for communications about the investigation for the months of February and March. The group also alleges that it received just one record requested for April, no records from any personal communication devices, and no records of communications directly involving Breed.

Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that SFPD denied all records requests made by the group, citing an ongoing investigation. The group said the move “stood in direct contradiction to public statements made by Chief Bill Scott about the conclusion of any criminal investigation into Carmody and strained credulity given the Medical Examiner’s March 22 announcement that Adachi’s death was accidental” and is in violation of The City’s Sunshine Ordinance.

Requests for comment made to Breed’s office and the SFPD were not immediately returned on Tuesday. John Cote, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, said “We’ll review the lawsuit thoroughly once we’ve been served with it, and we’ll respond accordingly in court.”

In its statement, the group said it is seeking to force Breed and the SFPD to “comply with city and state open records laws by conducting adequate searches for the requested records, including of personal devices and accounts, producing all of the requested records, or, alternatively, disclosing the existence of records via a log with the reasons those records are exempt from public release,” per the statement.

It is also seeking to uncover additional public records requested in connection to the investigation and raids.

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