San Francisco police allegedly monitored a journalist’s phone calls in the weeks before they raided his home and office on May 10 to investigate a leaked police report, according to documents released Friday.
Journalist Bryan Carmody shared on Twitter a copy of a search warrant, dated March 1, obtained by police that sought to seize his “subscriber information, call detail records, SMS usage, mobile data usage and cell tower data.” Carmody said he only learned of that warrant on Friday.
His attorney, Ben Berkowitz, said the warrant was unlawful, as were two previous ones used to search his home and office.
In a statement, Berkowitz said:
“Mr. Carmody received today a previously undisclosed search warrant obtained secretly and illegally by the San Francisco police Department on March 1, 2019. The SFPD appears to have used the illegal warrant to spy on Bryan’s movements, phone calls and communications.”
“This is an alarming and deeply disturbing attack on the free press in an attempt to unmask Mr. Carmody’s confidential source. The warrant provided for surveillance of a journalist. … The SFPD’s actions are plainly illegal under the First Amendment and California’s Shield Law. We are calling on city officials to hold the SFPD accountable.”
The raid on Carmody occurred as part of an investigation by police into a leaked report with details of the Feb. 22 death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, including that Adachi died while accompanied by a woman who wasn’t his wife. Carmody somehow obtained a copy of the report and sold it to three Bay Area television stations.
According to Carmody, during the raid, officers handcuffed him for nearly six hours as they seized several laptops and cameras, among other items, and tried to get him to reveal his source.
Carmody and his attorney have filed motions in court to unseal the two search warrants issued for the raid.
Several free-speech organizations have condemned the raid, citing the state’s Shield Law that prohibits law enforcement from forcing journalists to hand over unpublished material or reveal confidential sources. Police Chief William Scott initially claimed the raid was conducted lawfully as officers were investigating Carmody as a possible co-conspirator in the theft of the police report.
However, last week, Scott admitted he was “concerned” that police investigators may have failed to properly inform the judges that Carmody was a journalist before they signed the search warrants for the raid. He said an outside agency would be taking over the police department’s criminal investigation into the leaked police report.
Scott added that the whole incident:
“… has raised important questions about our handling of this case and whether the California shield law was violated.”
The day after Scott’s admission, the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association called for Scott to resign, calling the apology a:
“… pathetic, deceitful and shameful display of self-preservation.”
Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP, said in a statement Monday:
“We urge the city’s elected leadership to reject the comments by the SFPOA and be mindful that their attack on Chief Scott is emblematic of everything that is wrong with the backwards thinking of some police officers who reject civil and human right reforms in our police ranks.”