Courtesy of Bryan Carmody

SF to settle legal claim with journalist raided by police for $369K

Nearly a year after police raided his home and office in a widely condemned infringement of his rights as a journalist, a freelance videographer has reached a proposed settlement of $369,000 with the city and county of San Francisco.

The proposal, which is being introduced to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, would bring an end to the legal claim filed by cameraman Bryan Carmody over the five search warrants executed against him in the first half of 2019.

Police drew national attention for targeting Carmody during a criminal investigation into a leaked incident report on the February 2019 death of then-Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Carmody had obtained the report from a source and sold a copy to several television stations in his role as a freelance videographer.

The report revealed salacious details about Adachi’s untimely death, prompting fears that critics within the San Francisco Police Department had leaked the document in retribution for the late public defender’s career advocacy for police accountability.

Carmody filed the legal claim on Aug. 29 as a precursor to a lawsuit.

While the San Francisco Examiner could not immediately obtain a copy of the document, Board of Supervisors records show the claim “involves the circumstances surrounding a series of warrants concerning Mr. Carmody and the conduct of the Police Department in the course of the investigation involving those warrants.”

Carmody and his attorneys declined to comment on the proposed agreement.

City Attorney’s Office spokesperson John Cote said, “We think this proposed settlement is an appropriate resolution given all of the circumstances and the inherent cost of further litigation.”

The SFPD obtained a total of five search warrants against Carmody in March and May 2019 to search his phone records, office and home. Five different San Francisco Superior Court judges approved the searches despite California law preventing search warrants from being issued against journalists and their unpublished materials.

On the morning of May 10, 2019, SFPD officers showed up at Carmody’s front door in the Richmond District with a sledgehammer. A home security camera recorded as investigators led Carmody away shirtless and in handcuffs.

The department sought the warrants amid pressure from Adachi’s widow and his allies on the Board of Supervisors to get to the bottom of the leak.

But as outrage mounted over the raids among press freedom advocates and politicians, each of the judges who issued the warrants decided to quash them, with some finding that Carmody was protected as a journalist under the California Shield Law and state Constitution.

Blame was placed both on the judiciary for approving the warrants as well as the Police Department for obfuscating the fact that Carmody was a journalist by not explicitly stating it in their search warrant applications.

Police Chief Bill Scott initially defended the raids by claiming that Carmody was engaged in a conspiracy to steal the police report. But he apologized to the public in late May and conceded that the warrants should not have issued.

While the Police Department said it would hand over its criminal investigation into the Adachi leak to an outside agency, no independent investigator has agreed to take up the case as of Monday, according to police. But the case still remains “open.”

The SFPD also passed its administrative investigation into whether any officers had violated internal policy to the Department of Police Accountability.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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