SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU/AP/BCN) - San Francisco's police chief defended the actions of his department when officers raided a freelance journalist's home, telling reporters that they have reason to believe he is a "co-conspirator" to the theft of a leaked police report involving the death of the city's Public Defender Jeff Adachai.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Chief William Scott said the search warrant was executed May 10 at the home of Bryan Carmody because police believe that he was a "co-conspirator," rather than a passive participant in obtaining the stolen report.
"We fully respect the first amendment right of journalists," Scott said, but added that the department believed Carmody had crossed the line and committed a crime.
Scott added that investigators believe Carmody was motivated by both financial gain and a desire to tarnish Adachi's image, who's known for uncovering misconduct within the police and sheriff departments.
Scott also said that investigators are also looking into the possibility Carmody himself may have paid for the leaked report. In a follow up statement by SFPD on Tuesday, police characterized this part of the investigation as secondary. They are looking to see if Carmody participated in criminal acts beyond his role with the news media.
In a consensual interview with Carmody, SFPD said he indicated motive and expressed "disdain" for Adachi, referring to the people who helped him obtain the report as "good people..."who "...had the right intentions."
Carmody has repeatedly said that he did not pay for the report and did not share any profits with his source. He also refuses to divulge his source within the police department.
Hours before Scott made these allegations, a San Francisco police attorney told Carmody, whose office and work equipment was seized the raid, that he could collect his property although the legal issues surrounding the case were not resolved. Carmody tweeted, however, that the police wouldn't release any property because the proper paperwork had not been taken care of.
At that hearing, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng set future dates to hear separate motions to quash search warrants used to raid his home and to unseal those warrants. A third motion by Carmody's attorney asked the judge order the immediate return of cameras, computers and cell phones seized by police.
Ronnie Wagner, an attorney for San Francisco police, said she planned to challenge the motions, although she told Carmody's attorney that his clients "items are available for pick up now." Carmody did not attend the hearing but tweeted out a statement.
"I am pleased that everything that the San Francisco Police took from my office and home will be returned today. This includes the police report, video, records, notes, computers and personal electronics," he tweeted. "Our main goal remains prevailing on our motion to quash so that nothing seized can be used against myself, North Bay Television News or our sources. We also look forward to learning the basis for the search warrants being issued."
Carmody's attorney, Thomas Burke, said police have "essentially acknowledged" that they had no right to his client's equipment.
The judge gave police until May 31 to submit written arguments, and Burke has until June 7 to respond. A hearing to listen to both sides is set for June 10.
Media organizations and First Amendment advocates are outraged that police raided a freelance reporter's home and office in search of a leaked police document concerning the death of the city public defender.
Carmody, commonly known in news parlance as a “stringer” and who sells video to KTVU and other media outlets on a regular basis, is arguing that the search warrant, currently under seal, was invalid, citing the state’s shield law, which protects journalists from revealing their sources. Burke, argued in his motion that journalists must be subpoenaed first for information, which gives reporters a chance to challenge the request in court.
On the day in question, police arrived at Carmody’s apartment, seizing more than 60 items from his home, trying to find a leak in their own department: When Adachi died on Feb. 22, Carmody obtained a police report that had unsavory details about Adachi’s death, which he sold to three TV stations, including to KTVU. Later, a coroner’s report corroborated some of what was in the police report: That he died accidentally from a mixture of cocaine, alcohol and heart disease.
Adachi had long been a foe of the police department and their heavy-handed tactics and many thought the leak was to smear his reputation in death.
While Chief Scott has maintained the search warrants were served lawfully amid allegations that it may have violated the state's Shield Law, he said the incident has served as a learning lesson for police.
Since the raid, police have stood by the legality of their search, saying they obtained a warrant through the proper channels, having it signed by two judges.
But San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon weighed in on the matter on Twitter, questioning police tactics, tweeting he “can’t imagine a situation in which a search warrant would be appropriate.”
Gascon added: “Even if there were such a showing, however, no search should have been conducted without the use of a special master. Journalists have multiple sources to whom they owe confidences, similar to an attorney who has multiple clients whom they owe attorney-client privilege.”
Special masters are court-appointed attorneys who assist in searches and determine whether the material falls within the scope of a warrant. They are often used when police search the records of attorneys, doctors or other professionals with privileged information, in order to protect the confidentiality of clients or patients. Police have not said whether they used a special master when conducting the search.
“Seizing the entire haystack to find the needle risks violating the confidences Mr. Carmody owes to all his sources, not just the person who leaked the police report,” Gascon said.
On Wednesday, KTVU Legal Analyst Michael Cardoza weighted in on the case. Watch below, or click here.
Wire services contributed to this report.