A San Francisco journalist whose equipment was seized in a police raid will get back his property, a police attorney said Tuesday at a court hearing, but that did not resolve larger issues surrounding the conduct of officers that alarmed journalism advocates.
Authorities have said the May 10 raids of the home and office of freelancer Bryan Carmody were part of a criminal investigation into what police called the illegal release of a report on the death of former Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who died suddenly in February.
But media organizations across the country have criticized the raids as a violation of California’s shield law, which specifically protects journalists from search warrants. The Associated Press is among dozens of news organizations siding with Carmody and seeking to submit a friend-of-the-court brief.
City supervisors scolded police for quietly releasing the report to the press, saying it was an attempt to smear the legacy of Adachi, who frequently sparred with police. An autopsy blamed Adachi’s Feb. 22 death on a mixture of cocaine and alcohol that compromised an already bad heart.
People who want to crack down on journalists come in all political stripes, said Jim Wheaton, founder of the First Amendment Project, a public interest law firm. It did not surprise him that police raided a freelancer in politically liberal San Francisco.
“They went after him because he’s all by himself,” Wheaton said. “And the fact that he sells the materials that he packages. He puts together a journalism report including documents and sells it. That’s what journalism is.”
It was unclear who is paying Carmody’s legal fees. His attorney, Thomas Burke, declined to comment.
San Francisco police have defended the May 10 raids in which they seized computers, cellphones and cameras. Police attorney Ronnie Wagner declined to answer further questions Tuesday as reporters followed her down a courthouse staircase.
Mayor London Breed initially defended the raids but on Sunday posted messages on Twitter saying she was “not okay” with raids on reporters. Dist. Atty. George Gascon said he has not seen the warrants, which are sealed, but he could not imagine a situation where warrants would be appropriate.
“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,” he said in a Monday tweet.
The city attorney’s office did not send an attorney, and spokesman John Cote said the office is “not appearing in court on that matter.”
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng set dates to hear requests by media organizations to unseal affidavits and revoke search warrants signed by judges.
The First Amendment Coalition wants the judge to unseal the police department’s applications for two search warrants, which would show whether officers informed judges that Carmody is a journalist.
In court documents, Carmody has said he is a veteran journalist who is often the first on the scene of breaking news. He provides video news packages to outlets in return for payment.
He sold copies of the Adachi police report along with video from the scene of his death and information obtained from interviews to three news stations.