Freelance Journalist Raided by FBI, SFPD over Police Report. First Amendment Lost?

By Faye Higbee

Freelance journalist Bryan Carmody, who writes for several news outlets, was left in handcuffs for seven hours as police and the FBI trashed his home and office looking for the source of a police report he obtained. He refuses to comply.

The freelance journalist sold a police report to news media that held details about the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi back in February. The police report was reportedly “confidential.” [You would think that in a liberal utopia like California, their police reports would be public record, or at least portions of the police report. Apparently not?]

California has a “shield law” that is supposed to protect a freelance journalist, or any other journalists, from being held in contempt. Whether or not it protects them from angry authorities seizing their equipment is another matter. Bryan says he has literally been “shut down” with the taking of all of his computers, newer camera, etc.

The releasing of the report did violate police procedures, which in any department is a huge no-no and punishable by disciplinary action or firing.

The SF Examiner reported:

A San Francisco Police Department spokesperson defended their action in a statement Friday, saying that the warrant was granted by a judge and the raid was “part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the leak of the Adachi police report.”

“Today’s actions are one step in the process of investigating a potential case of obstruction of justice along with the illegal distribution of a confidential police report,” the statement read.

Carmody said that police and FBI agents attempted to enter his home at 8:30 a.m. using “a sledgehammer.”

“They were in the process of breaking my gate down at which time I woke up and let them in,” said Carmody, adding that the authorities entered his home with guns drawn and searched “my entire house from attic to garage.”

Carmody stated that the only thing they broke was the lock to the gate. As of this writing, his personal property has not been returned.

Why San Francisco went to such great lengths over the “salacious” (sexually explicit) details in the police report is a question. The SFPD was extremely unhappy about the leaking of the police report, and is in pursuit of whoever gave the report to Carmody. For his part, Carmody doesn’t think anything they obtained would lead them to the source.

The Shield law states: “In California, article I, section 2(b) of the California Constitution and Evidence Code section 1070 provide an immunity from being held in contempt to reporters, editors, publishers, and other people connected with or employed by newspapers, magazines, press associations and wire services, as well as radio or TV news reporters.

The California shield law applies to both the source of information (“confidential sources”) and to “unpublished information” such as notes, out-takes, unpublished photographs and tapes.” First Amendment Coalition

Public Defender Jeff Adachi had reportedly dedicated his career to exposing police misconduct.

Carmody himself may not be held in contempt, although there is a caveat in the Shield law that says if he could have obtained the report by other means, he could be prosecuted. It is eminently unclear why the police would classify a report as “confidential” in the first place. Could it have been redacted and obtained in a manner other than leaking?

In April, it was revealed that an unnamed freelance reporter had sold the report to three media outlets for $2,500 each.

Protection of sources is a time-honored Freedom of the Press issue, whether it’s a freelancer or an employee of a regular news service. Did San Francisco go overboard or did the reporter do something wrong?

Featured photo: screenshot via surveillance camera /KTLA