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Group sues mayor, police for journalist investigation records

The free speech advocacy organization First Amendment Coalition on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against both the San Francisco Police Department and Mayor London Breed, alleging that both Breed’s office and the police department have refused to release public records related to the investigation into freelance journalist Bryan Carmody.

The investigation into how Carmody obtained a stolen police report on the Feb. 22 death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi before selling it to media outlets ultimately led investigators to monitor his phone and raid his home and office.

According to FAC, the organization filed a series of public records requests with both Breed’s office and the police department in connection with the investigation, but Breed’s office sent them only two records from April and none from February and March. The police department denied their requests altogether, FAC officials said.

The lawsuit alleges that by denying their requests, both Breed’s office and police violated the California Public Records Act and the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance.

In a statement, FAC executive director David Snyder said:

“City leaders have made an awful situation worse by stonewalling our requests for records related to the Carmody debacle.”

“They have already violated the constitutional rights of a journalist and now they are refusing to give the public key communications about the decision-making that led to these actions.”

Ching Wong/SFBay San Francisco Mayor London Breed, third left, prays during a memorial service for Public Defender Jeff Adachi at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, March 4, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

The lawsuit is seeking to force SFPD and the mayor’s office to comply with the public records act and sunshine ordinance.

The requested records could help the organization and the public understand what led law enforcement to conduct the May 10 search at Carmody’s home and office and seize his property.

Both FAC and Carmody’s attorneys have maintained the police department violated the California Shield Law by conducting the raid. The law protects journalists from being forced to reveal their sources and hand over any unpublished material to law enforcement.

During the investigation into Carmody, police obtained five search warrants that led to the raids and the seizure of his property. The FAC and Carmody’s attorneys have successfully gotten all five warrants quashed and four warrants have been unsealed, with a ruling pending on unsealing the fifth one.

Those four warrants, so far, have shown that both police and judges who signed them had evidence that Carmody was a journalist. In response to the suit, John Cote, spokesman with the city attorney’s office said:

“We’ll review the lawsuit thoroughly once we’ve been served with it, and we’ll respond accordingly in court.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story cited the wrong last name of the FAC executive director. It is David Snyder, not Sydney as originally reported. The text has since been corrected for accuracy.

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