In his first public comments since police raided the home and office of a freelance journalist, Police Chief Bill Scott on Wednesday defended the actions police took to obtain the search warrants against the videographer.
Scott told the Police Commission that officers followed the “appropriate legal process” before bringing a sledgehammer to the home of freelancer Bryan Carmody on Friday morning in search of information on who leaked a police report to the press on the death of the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Police obtained the search warrants from two judges last week after members of the Board of Supervisors pressured the Police Department to hold the source of the leak accountable. Many viewed the leak as political retribution against Adachi for exposing police misconduct during his career.
“The search warrant was conducted as part of the criminal investigation into the illegal release of the confidential Adachi police report and the subsequent sale of that report to members of the media,” Scott said.
“Citizens and leaders of the city of San Francisco demanded a thorough investigation into the leak,” Scott continued. “This action, search warrant, represents a step in the investigation of a potential case of criminal offenses and the illegal distribution of a confidential police report.”
The raids drew national attention and raised press freedom concerns for journalism and civil liberties experts who believe the search warrants may have been issued in violation of federal and state laws protecting journalists.
Critical to those attempting to determine the legality of the search warrants is whether police told each judge about Carmody being a journalist. But neither judge has spoken publicly about their reasoning, and the applications police submitted to obtain the warrants were filed under seal.
The San Francisco Examiner previously reported that police told the judges Carmody had a “media background.” But it has been noted that does not necessarily mean police directly said he was a journalist.
At the Police Commission, Scott said he is not considering moving to have the affidavits unsealed or partially released with redactions.
At least one group, the First Amendment Coalition, is looking into taking legal action to have the affidavits unsealed.
Some have speculated that police could have argued that Carmody was not a journalist, and therefore laws including the California shield law, which ban search warrants against journalists, did not apply.
Carmody is a longtime stringer in the region, meaning he sells video and information to TV news stations for money. Because Carmody sold the Adachi report to multiple outlets and is not a reporter affiliated with any one publication, it has been suggested that he is not a journalist.
But Bill Snyder, a freelance journalist with the Pacific Media Workers Guild said at the Police Commission, “The very basis of all journalism is to sell labor.”
“The entire issue about whether or not it was appropriate for Mr. Carmody to be selling the news or the report that he obtained is entirely beside the point and a red herring,” Snyder said.
Police Commissioner John Hamasaki was among those who initially seemed to question whether Carmody was acting as a journalist when he sold the report, or if police could have raided his home and office lawfully in connection with a crime that has not been disclosed or specified.
But Hamasaki said the images of police coming to Carmody’s door with a sledgehammer startled him.
“When the homes of journalists are raided, it doesn’t matter how strong we feel about the underlying case,” Hamasaki said, referring to the Adachi report. “I think we should all be concerned.”
Local politicians have been on both sides of the issue. Supervisor Sandra Fewer mistakenly told the Examiner she thought it was illegal for a journalist to obtain a leaked police report, but has since walked her statement back.
On Tuesday, Mayor London Breed released a statement that did not condemn the raid.
In an interview with the Examiner Wednesday, Supervisor Aaron Peskin said the raid “horrified” him.
“It appears to me that every check and balance has failed,” Peskin said, referring to the judges issuing the warrants and police obtaining them.
Peskin said the notion that a freelance journalist selling information “is somehow trading in stolen goods just fundamentally undermines the independence of the press.”