The controversial mid-May raid of a reporter’s home by San Francisco police over a leaked internal report in the sudden death of the county’s public defender continued to draw questions Monday – this time from its district attorney.
In a series of tweets Monday morning, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said he couldn’t see a situation where a warrant would be justified and said the police operation risked violating the confidential relationship between journalist and source.
“I can’t imagine a situation in which a search warrant would be appropriate,” Gascon posted Monday on his Twitter account.
Gascon’s comments follow the words of San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who on Sunday posted on her Twitter account, “I am not okay with police raids on reporters. We need to do better.” Breed, in a later tweet, called for a “protocol” for how to handle investigations involving journalists.
San Francisco police on May 10 raided the home of freelance journalist Brian Carmody as part of their probe into who leaked an internal police report into the death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi in February, seizing Carmody’s equipment and holding him for hours. Carmody told the Chronicle that officers used a sledgehammer to knock their way into his home.
The raid has since been condemned by media and First Amendment advocates nationwide. One commentator, CNN’s Yashar Ali, called the raid on Carmody’s home “a stunning intrusion on press freedom, similar to what we see in autocratic regimes.”
The Chronicle in a May 13 editorial, wrote “the police might as well have taken their sledgehammer to the United States Constitution.” San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott has stood by the decision to raid Carmody’s home, the Chronicle reported.
Gascon in Monday’s posts said his office “had not seen the warrant or the facts upon which it was based,” but questioned whether a warrant should have been issued without an indication that Carmody violated the law in obtaining the report.
Even if authorities suspected Carmody of breaking the law, Gascon said a special master should have been brought in on the warrant. A special master is appointed by a judge and accompanies peace officers when they conduct searches of evidence held by those with confidential privileges including attorneys, physicians and clergy.
“No search should have been conducted without the use of a special master,” Gascon tweeted. “Journalists have multiple sources to whom they owe confidences, similar to an attorney who has multiple clients to whom they owe attorney-client privilege.”
Two San Francisco Superior Court judges issued the warrant, San Francisco Mayor Breed posted, later adding that she wanted a “thorough investigation” into how the internal report was leaked and made clear to police that those responsible for the leak need to be held to account.
“I want the SFPD to get to the bottom of this,” Breed wrote, even as she cast doubt on whether the May 10 search was appropriate. “(T)he more we learn, the less appropriate it looks to me,” Breed wrote.
Adachi, 59, died Feb. 22. County medical examiners ruled his death accidental. The cause of death was a mix of cocaine and alcohol, reported Oakland television station KTVU, which had obtained a copy of the coroner’s report. Adachi was having dinner with a friend when he began to have difficulty breathing. He was brought to an apartment before he was taken to a local medical center, where he was pronounced dead, the television station reported.
Gascon on Monday said, “Seizing the entire haystack to find the needle risks violating the confidences Mr. Carmody owes to all his sources, not just the person who leaked the police report.”