Breed, Gascón Question If Police Raid Over Adachi Leak Was 'Appropriate'

San Francisco Mayor London Breed says she's not sure if the raid on a freelance journalist's home by the San Francisco Police Department was appropriate. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón on Monday joined a growing chorus of city leaders who are pushing back against the police raid on a freelance journalist's home earlier this month.

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In his first statement on the May 10 search of the home and office of Bryan Carmody over a leaked police report about the February death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Gascón spoke out strongly against both the raid and the legal process that allowed it to happen.

"My office has not seen the warrant or the facts upon which it was based, but absent a showing that a journalist broke the law to obtain the information that police are looking for, I can’t imagine a situation in which a search warrant would be appropriate," Gascón said on Twitter.

His statement came a day after Mayor London Breed slightly walked back her support for the raid, while reaffirming her belief that the search itself was "legal and warranted."

Breed had previously said that she supported the decision by two San Francisco Superior Court judges to issue search warrants for Carmody's home and office as part of a criminal investigation into what SFPD says was an illegal release of the report. Carmody said a confidential source gave him the 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 last week. "They made the decision. And so at this point, you know, I support their decision."

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In a series of tweets on Sunday, she offered a more nuanced take on the raid, which has attracted national attention and been renounced as an assault on the First Amendment and freedom of the press.

"I want the SFPD to get to the bottom of this, but I am not OK with police raids on reporters. We need to do better," she wrote. "However, two judges issued the search warrant, and I have to believe that the judges’ decision was legal and warranted, and therefore so was the search."

But she added that "the more we learn, the less appropriate it looks to me."

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. (Shawn Calhoun/Wikimedia Commons)

Gascón went even further, saying that even if there was evidence Carmody broke the law, the search should not have been allowed without the presence of a "special master" — an unpaid attorney that is supposed to accompany police during searches of people with confidential relationships such as doctors, psychologists and members of the clergy.

"Journalists have multiple sources to whom they owe confidences, similar to an attorney who has multiple clients to whom they owe attorney-client privilege," he said. "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."

The SFPD is standing by the raid. "I’m confident that we took the appropriate legal matters to authorize or get the search authorized by the judicial officials that looked at it," said SFPD Chief William Scott at a Police Commission hearing Wednesday.

After days of mostly silence or support, a growing number of city officials are now questioning the search. Supervisor Hillary Ronen was the first city leader to speak out against the May 10 raid, telling KQED last week, "The police have gone about this completely wrong."

Supervisor Aaron Peskin told the San Francisco Examiner that the raid "horrified" him, and Supervisor Matt Haney said the investigation into the leaked report should be focused within the Police Department, not on Carmody.

"Knocking down the door of a journalist with a sledgehammer and seizing property is an unacceptable direct attack on freedom of the press," Haney said on Twitter on Saturday.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani added her voice to the growing discontent on Monday, saying in a statement, "Journalists deserve every protection guaranteed to them under California’s Shield Law and the First Amendment. These protections apply not just to journalists at elite organizations, but to all journalists."

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer has continued to support the raid, saying she has "strong feelings about the morality of Carmody's actions, including the sale of a leaked police report."

The controversy is expected to move to the courtroom this week. First Amendment advocates are asking a judge to unseal the SFPD's application for warrants, and an attorney for Carmody is asking that his belongings be returned.

In a court filing, Carmody's attorney said that the search violated state laws, including California's shield law, which protect journalists from revealing their sources and from being subject to search warrants for materials collected during newsgathering. During the raid, police took computers, cellphones, cameras and flash drives, among other things from Carmody's home.

Breed on Sunday said going forward, the city needs a protocol for how the police handles investigations involving members of the media.

"A free and independent press plays a crucial role in our society, and we have to work harder to honor not only the letter of California’s Shield Law, but also the spirit of it," she said.

This story was originally published on May 19 and has been updated.

KQED's Sonja Hutson contributed to this report.

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