SFPD Finally Admits The Search Of A Journalist's Home Over A Leaked Document Was Probably Illegal
from the at-least-a-day-late-and-several-dollars-short dept
The raid of stringer Bryan Carmody’s home by the SFPD has detonated directly in the face of the department. After someone in the department leaked a police report in an effort to smear a prominent public defender following his unexpected death, an internal investigation was opened to determine which SFPD employee was the source of the leak.
This internal investigation quickly went external. Bryan Carmody had shopped copies of the police report to a few news stations, which resulted in the SFPD raiding his home and seizing $10,000 of his equipment, including phones, laptops, and storage devices.
After a brief round of “this is all by the book” by a number of SF officials, it soon became apparent this was not at all by the book. In addition to Carmody’s First Amendment protections, the stringer was also likely shielded by state law, which forbids searching and seizing journalists’ property for the sole purpose of trying to identify a source.
The mayor walked back her statement defending the SFPD for its actions. So did a couple of council members. The District Attorney delivered the harshest criticism of the police force, saying he couldn’t imagine a situation where this search would have been appropriate.
At long last, the department itself is coming around to how much it fucked this whole thing up. A qualified apology has been delivered, as Evan Sernoffsky reports for SF Gate.
After two weeks of growing outrage, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott apologized Friday for raiding a journalist’s home and office in a bid to unmask a confidential source, admitting the searches were probably illegal and calling for an independent investigation into the episode.
Police “should have done a better job,” Scott said in an interview with The Chronicle. “I’m sorry that this happened. I’m sorry to the people of San Francisco. I’m sorry to the mayor. We have to fix it. We know there were some concerns in that investigation and we know we have to fix it.”
Among Chief Scott’s concerns are the possibility the search warrants didn’t specify Carmody’s occupation. It seems clear they didn’t. If they did, they likely would have been rejected as impermissible under state law, not to mention the First Amendment.
“One of the issues that I saw in this is in the initial warrants,” he said. “There’s one that’s particularity troubling and concerning. The issue is the clarity in the warrant. The description of what his role entails as a journalist — there should have been more clarity there. That is going to be a concern that has to be explored further.”
Scott has seen the underlying documents, so this hedging is a little disingenuous. But it’s probably necessary, at least from the department’s perspective. The SFPD is likely planning its defense against Carmody’s inevitable lawsuit, so it does the agency no favors if the chief states plainly officers conducted illegal searches using warrants obtained untruthfully. The SFPD may also be holding out hope the judge presiding over the coming lawsuit will find stringers aren’t journalists, but that eventuality seems unlikely.
Furthermore, “issue of clarity” just sounds like fancy words for lying. It’s incredibly unlikely the officers didn’t know what Carmody did for a living. Stringers are fixtures at crime scenes, car accidents, and other emergency calls. This information appears to have been downplayed in the affidavit, if not omitted completely.
The independent investigation could lead to additional charges. Not only will this investigation try to find the source of the leak, but it’s going to go after the officers who used a bogus affidavit to violate the state’s journalist shield law. The end result of all of this is the stripping away of another layer of trust and a widening of the gap between the police and the policed.