New York May 13, 2019–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned a raid by San Francisco police on the home of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody, and called on authorities to immediately return electronic devices, documents, and other seized property.
Between eight and 10 police officers executed a search warrant on Carmody’s home in San Francisco on May 10, as part of an investigation into how the reporter obtained a confidential police report, Carmody told CPJ. The Los Angeles Times reported that police used a sledgehammer to open the gate to the property, handcuffed Carmody, and then executed a second search warrant on the home office that he uses as a newsroom. They took notebooks, computers, cameras, phones, and a copy of the police report, Carmody said.
Police had previously come to the reporter’s house to ask him for the name of the person who provided the confidential police report, but Carmody declined their request, according to multiple reports.
David Snyder, executive director of the free expression advocacy organization the First Amendment Coalition, told the L.A. Times that the search violated California’s shield law, which protects journalists’ relationships with sources. According to the northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the law bars authorities from executing a warrant on documents collected as part of newsgathering.
“The police raid on freelance journalist Bryan Carmody’s home sends a chilling message to all local media,” said CPJ’s North America program coordinator Alexandra Ellerbeck. “Authorities should immediately return his equipment, stop pressuring him to reveal the identity of his sources, and pledge to follow California’s shield law.”
The raid is related to a police report about the February 22 death of San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi, according to reports. Carmody put together a news package, which included the leaked document and additional reporting, that he provided to three television stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to local reports.
Carmody told CPJ that police seized tens of thousands of dollars of equipment from his home, making it impossible for him to continue working as a reporter.
In a statement emailed to CPJ, police spokesperson Joseph S. Tomlinson said, “The citizens and leaders of the city of San Francisco have demanded a complete and thorough investigation into this leak, and this action represents a step in the process of investigating a potential case of obstruction of justice along with the illegal distribution of confidential police material.”
Snyder and Carmody’s lawyer, Thomas Burke, described the search as unlawful. “It’s designed to intimidate,” Burke told the LA Times. “It’s essentially the confiscation of a newsroom.”
“They are trying to root out the source, and that’s the core of what California’s journalist shield law protects,” Snyder said.