San Francisco police seize equipment of freelance journalist who refused to identify a source

CNN/ Newswire | 6/11/2019, 9:46 a.m.

By Amir Vera and Keith Allen, CNN

(CNN) -- Bryan Carmody was sleeping Friday when he woke to the sound of San Francisco police officers breaking down his security gate with a sledgehammer.

The northern California-based freelance journalist told CNN Monday the group of officers produced a search warrant to enter his residence.

For the next seven hours, Carmody said, he was handcuffed as officers seized his computers, cameras, phones and notebooks. Officers also searched Carmody's office away from his home. While he wasn't arrested, Carmody said officers gave him no indication of when his equipment would be returned.

"They took every digital photo I've ever taken, even family photos," Carmody said. "Basically, at this point, I'm out of business."

Carmody said in his 29 years of being a journalist, nothing like this has ever happened to him.

The raid of Carmody's home came after an April 11 conversation with officers in which Carmody refused to tell authorities how he obtained a confidential police report that included information about the February death of prominent San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi, according to Carmody's attorney Thomas R. Burke. Carmody told officers he could not divulge his source, he said Monday.

Adachi, 59, was known for his dogged criticism of the police department, according to CNN affiliate KPIX-TV. The coroner's office, KPIX reported, said Adachi died from a mix of alcohol consumption and cocaine.

Police refused to release the report or details behind Adachi's death, CNN affiliate KPIX reported. Police said releasing such details would "endanger the safety of a witness or other person involved in the investigation, or ... endanger the successful completion of the investigation or a related investigation."

Despite the police department's reluctance to release investigation information, details were leaked and made their way into news reports.

"The notion that I was running around hawking this (confidential police) document is wrong," Carmody told CNN. "The documents were part of a story, I sold a story. I give stations a heads up, that's how our agreement works."

Carmody also said that his reporting and distribution of the story did not arise out of any political agenda or a grudge against the city of San Francisco or its police department.

His attorney demanded in a statement Monday that police return "these improperly seized materials, or, at a minimum, not review any materials."

"There is no conceivable basis here for the SFPD to claim any 'exigency' exception to bypass these well-established protections for journalists like Mr. Carmody," Burke said.

Burke said he spoke with a San Francisco officer twice Friday and to the department's spokesperson Saturday. He says he hasn't received a response from the department concerning the return of his client's possessions. He did, however, reach out to the city's district attorney's office and was told the city's top prosecutor had not reviewed any search warrants executed at Carmody's home or office, he said.