San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott on Friday acknowledged a search of a journalist’s home during an investigation into a leaked police report may have been improper. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Police chief acknowledges raid on journalist’s home may have violated state laws

Admission marks major turnaround for department after outrage over First Amendment violation

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott conceded Friday that a raid on a journalist’s home during an investigation into a leaked police report this month may have violated state laws and called for an independent investigation into the matter.

In a statement released Friday, Scott said that a “top-to-bottom” review of the criminal investigation into the unauthorized release of the police report on Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s death has raised concerns over a “lack of due diligence by department investigators” in seeking search warrants for freelance stringer Bryan Carmody.

Scott said the investigators also may not have properly addressed Carmody’s “status as a member of the news media.”

On May 10, police and FBI officials executed two search warrants on Carmody’s home and office. Officers showed up with a sledgehammer to force entry into his home, and confiscated over 100 of his personal items, including tablets and thumb drives.

“This has raised important questions about our handling of this case and whether the California shield law was violated,” said Scott.

Scott said that he has involved outside agencies in the criminal investigation, and that a request for an “independent, impartial” investigation by a separate investigative body came at the direction of Mayor London Breed. The Department of Police Accountability will also investigate how the search warrant was executed.

He added that the San Francisco Police department will review its own protocols on addressing members of the media, citing the department’s current statement of values which dictates that “policing strategies must preserve and advance democratic values.”

“In this area, we must do a better job. Journalists and everyone in our city deserve a police department that will maintain the constitutional rights of all,” he said. “We understand that faith in SFPD has been shaken and we will work hard to restore it.”

Scott’s statement on Friday comes amid growing concern and criticism over the department’s conduct in the case and violations of the rights afforded Carmody under state law due to his status as a journalist. It also marks a major turnaround for the department. Earlier this week, Scott had defended the search, saying Carmody was being investigated as a possible “co-conspirator” in the theft of the police report.

The raid divided city and criminal justice leaders, while First Amendment advocates rushed to Carmody’s defense. Supervisor Sandra Fewer expressed concerns that the leak was illegal, and Carmody faced criticism for selling the information from the police report — which included salacious details of Adachi’s death — to television stations.

Breed herself was initially slow to condemn the police’s conduct as improper, saying it went through the “appropriate legal process.” On Sunday, Breed still called the raid “legal and warranted,” but added that she was “not okay with police raids on reporters.”

On Friday, she issued a statement saying she was glad the chief had acknowledged the department’s mistakes but “I remain deeply disappointed by the actions taken in this case up to today. This is unacceptable and we have to do better.”

The actions being taken today are the right thing for the Department and The City,” Breed said. “We have to restore the trust among the Department, the public and the media. An independent and free press is essential in our city and our society.”

Attorneys Ben Berkowitz and Tom Burke, who are representing Carmody, said they were “encouraged to see that Mayor Breed called for an independent, external investigation of the San Francisco Police Department’s conduct in this matter.”

“There needs to be real reform in the Department to ensure that the SFPD respects the First Amendment and the independence of a free press,” Berkowitz and Burke said in a statement, noting that they thought Scott “owes an apology to Mr. Carmody also.”

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