A day after police raided a freelance journalist’s home and office in San Francisco, freedom of information advocates Saturday denounced the action as a violation of his First Amendment rights.
San Francisco Superior Court judges issued two warrants to search the home and office of freelance videographer Bryan Carmody as part of a police investigation into who leaked a confidential report about the Feb. 22 death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Police confiscated more than 100 personal items, including his cell phone, computer, hard drives, cameras, tablets, six pay stubs from news organizations and a copy of the leaked police report, according to the search warrants obtained Saturday by the San Francisco Examiner.
The warrants show they were issued based on Penal Code 1524 for stolen property and probable cause a felony was committed. It was unclear who the suspect is and whether Carmody, who sold the information to at least three media organizations, is a suspect.
A Police Department spokesperson on Saturday declined to answer questions about Friday’s raid, including why the FBI participated in the raid. But the department said in a statement that the raid was “a step in the process.”
“We are committed to maintaining the public’s trust, investigating any allegations of misconduct and holding those responsible for such acts accountable,” the statement said.
But First Amendment advocates on Saturday said that the seizures were a violation of Carmody’s journalistic protections, such as those afforded under California’s shield law to maintain the confidentiality of sources.
David Snyder, a journalist and First Amendment lawyer who heads the First Amendment Coalition, said that “anybody is protected under the First Amendment to publish a leaked document as long as they did not participate in the unlawful getting of the document.”
“A journalist can’t break into a file cabinet to get confidential records or hack into or participate in hacking into a computer,” said Snyder.
“I don’t know whether the [judges] were not made aware of whether [Carmody is] a journalist,” he added. “San Francisco did this wrong.”
The search warrant for Carmody’s office was issued by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang on May 10 at 12:19 pm. On May 9, at 12:21 pm, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Gail Dekreon had issued the search warrant for Carmody’s home.
Friends and supporters of Adachi, who dedicated his career to uncovering police misconduct, said the leak was political retribution and meant to smear his reputation. The report included salacious details about his death and pictures of the unkempt bed where paramedics found him in a Telegraph Hill apartment.
The Examiner reported the contents of the report at the time but did not pay for the information.
The Examiner previously reported that at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing held in April, Adachi’s widow spoke about the emotional toll that the disclosure has had on her family, calling it “despicable.”
“It is incredibly painful to have the Police Department do this to you,” Mutsuko Adachi said. “It was all over the news, we had no privacy.”
Asked whether Carmody sold information about Adachi’s death in an effort to tarnish his reputation, Carmody said he had “no beef with Jeff Adachi.”
Several elected officials who previously condemned the leak declined to comment Saturday on the searches, including Supervisor Sandra Fewer.