S.F. Mayor Breed Supports Police Raid of Journalist's Home While Supervisor Condemns It

SFPD raided a freelance journalist's home and office on Friday, May 10, as part of a criminal investigation into what police say was the illegal release of its report about the Feb. 22, 2019, death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi.  (Courtesy of Bryan Carmody)

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Wednesday she supports a decision by two judges allowing police to search freelance journalist Bryan Carmody's home and office, as the first city official spoke out against the raid.

The raid last Friday was part of a criminal investigation into what the San Francisco Police Department says was the illegal release of its report about the Feb. 22 death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Carmody said a confidential source gave him the police report, which he then sold to several news outlets.

"Our role is to follow the law, and the judges ultimately make the decisions," Breed said. "They made the decision. And so at this point, you know, I support their decision."

But Supervisor Hillary Ronen disagreed: "The police have gone about this completely wrong."

"I don't love that (Carmody) took this document that should never have been released in the first place and sold it off to news outlets as a salacious story to hurt Jeff's legacy and his family," Ronen said. "But that doesn't mean that we undermine one of the most important hallmarks of our democracy because we don't like what this individual is doing."

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The police report said that the night Adachi died, a woman told police he had asked to use the apartment where paramedics found him, that he was with a woman who identified herself as "Caterina," and that police found empty bottles of alcohol and cannabis gummies, as well as syringes that may have been left by paramedics. Adachi died due to a combination of cocaine, alcohol and pre-existing heart problems, according to a report from the city's medical examiner.

Two San Francisco Superior Court judges signed warrants authorizing police to search Carmody's home and office. They took computers, cellphones, cameras and flash drive, among other things.

Breed said questions about the legality of the search would play out in the courts.

"This is about holding someone within the police department accountable for doing something that should not have happened," she said.

First Amendment attorneys say the raid violated laws protecting journalists and could set a dangerous precedent for press freedoms.

"It was unlawful and frankly pretty outrageous," said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

In a letter to the SFPD demanding the return of Carmody's belongings, attorney Thomas Burke said the search warrants violate state laws that protect journalists from revealing their sources and from being subject to search warrants for materials collected during newsgathering.

"Indisputably, these materials are protected ... and should not have been confiscated by the San Francisco police in the first instance," Burke wrote in the letter.

San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said Monday she believed the search warrants and the raid were justified because, as a stringer, Carmody sells video footage and information to news organizations.

"I don't know if he met the threshold of a journalist because he doesn't really write the report,” Fewer said.

But, according to Carmody, he has an active SFPD press credential and has worked with the department for years.

Fewer walked back her comments slightly on Tuesday, saying in a statement she understood that press freedom was a "sensitive issue" and that she was "not a legal expert."

"I do have strong feelings about the morality of Carmody's actions, including the sale of a leaked police report," she added, noting she felt it was "meant to damage the reputation of Jeff Adachi after his death, which has caused great harm to his loved ones."

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Over the weekend, Adachi's successor, Public Defender Manohar Raju, said criminal justice and city hall leaders agreed that the release of police reports "in this fashion is wrong."

While Raju said he was pleased the police department was investigating, he declined to say if he believed the raid was justified and noted he was not "condoning specific police tactics in this matter."

The police have said that "the citizens and leaders of the city of San Francisco have demanded a complete and thorough investigation into this leak."

"We are committed to maintaining the public’s trust, investigating any allegations of misconduct and holding those responsible for such acts accountable," an SFPD spokesperson said Saturday in a statement.

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