Journalist Bryan Carmody listens during a discussion on the May 2019 SFPD raid on his home and office following the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi with the Society of Professional Journalists President J. Alex Tarquinio and his attorney, Tom Burke at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism in San Francisco on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Journalist targeted in contested SF police raids speaks out

Months after the highly publicized police raids on the home and office of a freelance journalist, the cameraman at the center of the controversy discussed his case in public for the first time Tuesday.

“Getting woken up by someone pounding on your gate with a metal sledgehammer was not a great experience,” said Bryan Carmody, the videographer who was under criminal investigation for selling a leaked police report on the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Carmody was speaking alongside his attorney in an interview with Alex Tarquinio, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. He has previously commented on the raids to reporters but had not appeared in public to address them.

Police were trying to find out the name of his source who leaked him the report when officers showed up at his door with a sledgehammer, detained him in handcuffs and seized his video equipment in May.

Investigators obtained five search warrants against him in all, including three for his phone records.

During the conversation Tuesday evening, Carmody said the raids initially threatened his business and had the potential to compromise his sources.

“They know every police officer’s phone number that I have,” Carmody said.

But Carmody suggested that his source is still safe.

“I didn’t write any of this stuff down,” Carmody said. “There’s no smoking gun email they’re looking for.”

Four of the five judges who authorized the searches have since found the warrants violated the California Shield Law, which protects journalists who refuse to disclose sources from having search warrants issued against them.

The judges have ordered that none of the evidence obtained as a result of the warrants can be used in the future.

“They can’t use any of that information,” said his attorney, Thomas Burke. “I have great confidence in that.”

Burke said the problem is that there could be a chilling effect where sources do not reach out to journalists with confidential information.

“I know of no American journalist that was more targeted and didn’t go to jail than Bryan Carmody,” said Burke. “I dare to say that if this has happened here, it can happen anywhere else.”

Police Chief Bill Scott ultimately apologized after the raids drew national attention.

Carmody pinned blame for the raids on Scott and said the Internal Affairs investigators who carried out the raids are literally “in the building” with the chief.

“That’s who these guys are, they work for the chief’s office,” Carmody said.

The police union called for Scott to resign after he blamed the raids on a lack of due dilligence by investigators.

The warrants

The four judges who quashed the warrants have also unsealed the affidavits police filed to obtain them.

Hours before the event Tuesday, the court released the application Sgt. Joseph Obidi filed to search Carmody’s home.

The affidavit shows San Francisco Superior Court Judge Gail Dekreon issued the warrant despite Obidi telling her that Carmody is a stringer who made a career out of “selling hot news stories.”

Records have previously shown that Judge Victor Hwang had the same information when he authorized the raid on Carmody’s office.

“That’s pretty much as clear as it gets,” Carmody said.

As for the warrants judges Rochelle East and Christopher Hite approved for Carmody’s phone records, the applications showed that Obidi stopped short of telling either of them Carmody was a journalist.

Obidi told the judges Carmody worked as a “freelance videographer” but did not mention that he had a press pass issued by the San Francisco Police Department.

East cited those details when she quashed the search warrant and ordered police to destroy all evidence obtained from it. The warrant was the first that police obtained against Carmody on March 1.

Police used phone records reviewed through the warrant to ask the next judges for approval to search Carmody. As a result of the warrant being quashed, Hite, Hwang and Dekreon ruled that there was not probable cause for the subsequent warrants to stand.

Judge Joseph Quinn signed the second warrant issued against Carmody for his phone records. He is scheduled to decide whether to quash and unseal the warrant Friday.

Despite the negative attention his case has drawn to the SFPD, Carmody said rank-and-file officers have not treated him differently when he’s out on the streets reporting the news.

“The SFPD, they’ve had some issues in the last few years to put it lightly,” Carmody said. “But most of the rank-and-file have come up to me and said ‘what they did to you was wrong.’”

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