SAN FRANCISCO — In a major flip-flop, San Francisco’s police chief is now saying that a raid on the home of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody earlier this month that outraged free press advocates across the country was improper and has apologized for it.
“I am specifically concerned by a lack of due diligence by department investigators in seeking search warrants and appropriately addressing Mr. Carmody’s status as a member of the news media. This has raised important questions about our handling of this case and whether the California shield law was violated,” Chief William Scott said in a statement issued late Friday.
Scott said Mayor London Breed asked for “an independent, impartial investigation” and that he has turned over the criminal investigation of how Carmody obtained a police report on the death of city Public Defender Jeff Adachi in February to “outside agencies.” That decision came after what he called “a top-to-bottom review ” of the matter. He didn’t identify those agencies.
“I am sorry (the raid) happened,” Scott told the San Francisco Chronicle in an interview. “I’m sorry to the people of San Francisco. I’m sorry to the mayor.”
Questions about how police obtained search warrants arose immediately. California has a strong reporter’s shield law that prohibits the seizing of notes and anything showing the identity of confidential sources.
Just Tuesday, Scott labeled Carmody a criminal suspect in an investigation of how the journalist obtained a report on the death of Adachi in a North Beach apartment. Toxicology tests later showed cocaine in Adachi’s system.
Carmody, who does freelance reporting, a job in news parlance called a “stringer,” sold the report to three television stations. Tuesday, Scott said several times at a news conference that Carmody “crossed the line” in obtaining the report from department sources, but didn’t elaborate.
Police raided Carmody’s home and office May 10, trying to knock down a security gate with a sledgehammer. Carmody was handcuffed for hours.
His lawyers said in a statement that the person Scott should apologize to is Carmody.
“Having represented Bryan in this action, we are pleased to see that Chief Scott apologized to Mayor Breed and to the people of San Francisco. We think he owes an apology to Mr. Carmody also,” the lawyers, Ben Berkowitz and Thomas Burke, said.
The raid brought much condemnation on police and San Francisco from press-freedom groups and journalists’ organizations, most of it focused on why two separate judges signed search warrants for Carmody’s home and office despite the shield law.
Much of the affidavit used to obtain the warrants remains sealed because police cited information from a confidential informant in the document.
The Reporter’s Committee for the Freedom of the Press, the First Amendment Coalition and the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists brought a motion in Superior Court on Tuesday to unseal the affidavit.
But Judge Samuel K. Feng declined to take up the matter immediately, pushing it into next month and frustrating lawyers who wanted to speed up the proceeding.
Among the reasons Feng cited for the delay were plans to attend a Dodger’s baseball game in Los Angeles and a comic-book conference.