It was a quieting day for First Amendment freedom when San Francisco cops and the FBI raided the home and newsroom of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody May 10, 2019, in search of the source of a confidential police report into the Feb. 22, 2019, death of elected San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. They came armed with a sledgehammer and search warrants.
In March 2020, San Francisco reached a $369,000 settlement to a lawsuit filed August 29, 2019, by Carmody against the city and county. The payout was approved March 31 by the Board of Supervisors, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In addition, Police Chief William Scott apologized for his department’s handling of the situation and conceded the searches were probably illegal; the warrants did not fully identify Carmody as a journalist, although Carmody had a police press pass for 16 years.
“I knew what they wanted,” Carmody told the Los Angeles Times after the incident. “They wanted the name.” They handcuffed Carmody for six hours while they hauled off notebooks, documents, cameras, phones, computers, and an iPod, according to latimes.com. The eight- to 10-officer squad drew their guns and combed through his belongings before transporting him to his office, which they also searched. Two weeks earlier, cops also stopped by his home seeking the name, even though California’s Shield Law “protects journalists from being bullied by police into revealing confidential sources,” mercurynews.com reports.
Carmody received the leaked police report on Adachi, which had earlier been the subject of rumor. He provided it and photos to news outlets as a freelance journalist.
San Francisco Chronicle editor-in-chief Audrey Cooper tweeted: “The problem is, you can’t put this egg back together. The police have chilled sources with their actions and also know whatever is in this journalist’s files. The implications are chilling.”
Adachi died of a drug and alcohol overdose, the coroner’s report revealed.
On its website, The Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California condemned the raid, noting “California’s Shield Law protects journalists from being held in contempt for refusing to disclose their sources’ identities and other unpublished/unaired information obtained during the news gathering process (California Constitution, Article I, § 2(b); California Evidence Code § 1070(a)). California Penal Code section 1524(g) provides that ‘no warrant shall issue’ for any item protected by the Shield Law.”
The organization further notes: “An attack on the rights of one journalist is an attack on the rights of all journalists. San Francisco’s wrongful actions against Carmody threaten fundamental journalistic freedoms which are vital to a functioning democracy.”
Sources: missionlocal.org, sfchronicle.com, latimes.com, abc7news.com, spjnorcal.org, mercurynews.com
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