As San Francisco police face backlash from across the nation for raiding the home and office of a freelance journalist, Mayor London Breed on Tuesday declined to condemn the action.
Referring to the search warrants police obtained against freelancer Bryan Carmody last week, the mayor said in a statement that the department “went through the appropriate legal process to request a search warrant, which was approved by two judges.”
“I believe that someone from within the department needs to be held accountable for the release of this information,” Breed said. “The police need to continue that internal investigation using legal and appropriate means.”
Police executed the search warrants Friday as part of an investigation into the leak of a police report on the death of the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi. The department is facing political pressure to find the source of the leak as the report included scandalous details about his death.
Breed made her comments despite an outcry from journalists and civil liberties attorneys who say the warrants may have violated federal and state laws that protect journalists from having warrants issued against them.
Her statement comes on the same day that an attorney for Carmody decided to move forward with legal action after the department missed a noon deadline for agreeing to return the items investigators seized from Carmody.
Tom Burke, an attorney for Carmody, said he would file a motion before each judge seeking to invalidate the warrants and have the seized items returned to Carmody without being reviewed by police. The items included reporting notebooks, video cameras and computers that Carmody used for newsgathering.
Burke said he would argue that the warrants violated laws protecting journalists, including the California shield law and the federal Privacy Protection Act.
Burke said investigators interviewed Carmody two weeks before the raid at his home and asked him to give up his source. Carmody said he did not.
“There is no mystery what they were looking for,” Burke said. “By every definition, your confidential source is protected.”
Questions remain about the reasons judges Victor Hwang and Gail Dekreon had for issuing the warrants. A court spokesperson has declined to comment, and neither judge has publicly explained their reasoning.
Some have questioned whether police told the judges that Carmody works as a journalist. On Monday, the San Francisco Examiner reported that police told a city supervisor the judges were aware Carmody had a “media background.”
But that does not necessarily mean police told the judges Carmody was a journalist, one expert noted Tuesday.
“The Police Department is basically saying that they raised in some fashion Carmody’s connection to the press, but what does that mean,” said attorney David Snyder. “I doubt that they said ‘this is a journalist’ straight up.”
The affidavit and statement of facts that police presented to the judges to obtain the warrants were filed under what is known as a “Hobbs” seal, which are intended to protect the identities of confidential police informants. Police have also declined to address the issue directly.
“I can’t comment on pending litigation other than to say SFPD provides all known facts and information in support of a search warrant application,” police spokesperson David Stevenson said in a statement Tuesday.
Stevenson said the warrants were conducted “as part of a criminal investigation into the illegal release of the confidential Adachi police report and subsequent sale to members of the media.”
Snyder said the First Amendment Coalition is considering pursuing legal action to unseal the documents. The argument would be that the public interest in determining whether the warrants violated the law is greater than keeping the documents behind closed doors.
Police obtained the warrants after showing probable cause that Carmody possessed stolen property — presumably the leaked report — and that a felony had been committed. Carmody has not been charged with a crime.
Carmody has admitted to selling the report as part of a video package to three media outlets. He is what’s known as a “stringer” in the journalism industry, meaning he sells video and information to TV stations for money.
The raid came after members of the Board of Supervisors called on police to hold the source of the leak accountable last month. At the hearing, it was revealed for the first time that an unnamed “stringer” had sold the report to outlets for $2,500 each.
Some believed that the report was handed to the press as political retribution for spending his career demanding police accountability.