San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott Does a 180, Says Raid on Journalist Was Wrong

By (Audrey McNamara)

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott apologized on Friday for his department’s raid on a freelance journalist’s home and office in an effort to unmask his confidential source.

“(Police) should have done a better job,” Scott said in an interview with the San Francisco 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.”

The reversal comes after weeks of national outrage over the incident. First Amendment advocates and lawmakers, including Democratic 2020 presidential contender Kamala Harris, have backed journalist Bryan Carmody and condemned the police department's actions.

And while Scott just days ago told a press conference investigators believe Carmody may have been a “co-conspirator” in a “criminal conspiracy” to leak a police report about public defender Jeff Adachi’s death, in his announcement Friday, he suggested that the searches on Carmody's home were improper.

“One of the issues that I saw in this is in the initial warrants,” Scott said. “There’s one that’s particularly 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.”

The California Shield Law specifically protects journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources. The law also protects journalists from handing over unpublished information, including notes, recordings, and pictures, and bars police from obtaining this sensitive information through searches.

The police chief also announced that there would be two independent investigations opened into the matter. Scott said an internal affairs investigation into the officers' actions would be opened, which could lead to disciplinary action.

The status of the second investigation remains less clear.

Last week, Scott had announced an investigation that views Carmody's role as a “possible co-conspirator” in an alleged scheme to steal a confidential police report and leak details about Adachi's death, possibly in an effort to smear his reputation. Adachi, who was known as a crusader against police misconduct, collapsed at a woman's apartment on Feb. 22 and later died, reportedly from a mixture of cocaine and alcohol. 

Scott stopped short of saying the department would drop its investigation into Carmody's role in the leak, but said that investigation would be turned over to an unnamed independent agency—suggesting that charges could still be brought against the journalist.

Carmody has maintained that he did not pay for the leaked report, nor did he conspire to steal it, but was simply given the report as part of his work as a journalist.

When he refused to reveal his source in April, officers showed up with a sledgehammer, battering ram, and pry bar. Police then seized his computers, cameras, and phones, and handcuffed him.

Ben Berkowitz, who is representing Carmody in the criminal case, said the Police Department should “take steps to make sure this never happens again.”

“I’m calling on them to come out and clear Bryan’s name with a statement that he has engaged in no criminal activity whatsoever,” Berkowitz was quoted as saying by the Chronicle. “One of the things I’ve found so offensive about the San Francisco Police Department’s conduct is it picked on an independent journalist. They wouldn’t have dared break down the San Francisco Chronicle’s door.”

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