Lawsuit Demands S.F. Mayor and Police Release Public Records Connected to Journalist Raid

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San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks during a news conference in 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Updated 3:50 p.m.

The First Amendment Coalition filed a lawsuit Tuesday against San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the city's Police Department for allegedly refusing to release records and communications connected to the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi and the subsequent investigation into the journalist who was leaked a police report on Adachi's death.

The police report revealed that Adachi, who died suddenly on Feb. 22, was at a friend's apartment with a woman who was not his wife, and that officers found empty bottles of alcohol and marijuana gummies. Freelance journalist Bryan Carmody sold the police report, along with video footage he shot of the apartment where Adachi was found unresponsive, to several news outlets.

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San Francisco police conducted a highly publicized raid of Carmody's home and office in May as part of an investigation into how he obtained the police report. They also conducted three searches of his phone records. First Amendment advocates argued those searches violated the California shield law, which protects journalists from revealing their sources and handing over unpublished information. Five San Francisco judges agreed, and ruled all of the search warrants invalid.

"There's so much to this story that we don't know, but that I'm confident is there in written communications, that would tell us who's to blame for this serial assault on journalistic freedoms," said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization. "It can't be that all of this is the result of a single sergeant in the police department swearing out five warrants. ... The Police Department and the mayor's office were involved. And so we want to know how they were involved. What were they saying to each other?"

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According to the lawsuit, the FAC submitted a request to SFPD asking for "reports, investigations, or findings" related to Adachi's death and any alleged criminal activity by Carmody. SFPD refused, citing active investigations and arguing that releasing the records could prevent police from successfully completing those investigations. The FAC then requested the records under the city's Sunshine Ordinance, which requires disclosure of records once "the District Attorney or court determines that a prosecution will not be sought against the subject involved." SFPD did not respond to that request, according to Snyder.

The city's medical examiner ruled Adachi's death an accident and, in a May statement, SFPD Chief Bill Scott announced the criminal investigation into the leaked report would be transferred to an outside agency. SFPD has not disclosed if another agency has actually taken over the investigation.

"The public is entitled to see communications and documents related to the concluded investigations," Snyder said. "So we're confident that a judge will find that the Sunshine Ordinance requires these records to be disclosed by the Police Department."

The SFPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The FAC also requested emails and text messages sent or received by Breed and her staff, as well as any calendar entries, about Adachi's death, the leaked police report and the Carmody warrants.

Breed's office sent the FAC a handful of emails, mostly a list of press clippings, according to Snyder and the lawsuit, but did not share any other requested documents, including records directly involving Breed, who had made public statements about the incidents.

"They've given us virtually nothing," Snyder said. "They produced no social media communications. And we know the mayor was tweeting about this. And so if they were doing a diligent job of searching through the records that they have, they would have given us the mayor's tweets on these topics. They didn't do that. And so that's just one signal that they didn't really even look, or at least didn't look as carefully as they are required to under California law."

Mayor Breed's compliance officer, Hank Heckel, wrote in an email to the FAC that "we have not withheld any potentially responsive files."

Breed's office referred a request for comment about the lawsuit to the City Attorney's office, whose spokesperson John Coté said in a statement, "We’ll review the lawsuit thoroughly once we’ve been served with it, and we’ll respond accordingly in court."