San Francisco OKs $369,000 Settlement for Journalist Targeted by Police

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A journalist whose home was raided by police will get $369,000 from San Francisco taxpayers under the terms of a settlement approved by the city’s Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Police barreled through the front door of freelance reporter Bryan Carmody’s home with a sledgehammer and guns drawn on May 10 to find the source of a leaked police report about the death of late San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Carmody had obtained the report from an anonymous source inside the police department.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a settlement over the 2015 police shooting death of Mario Woods. (BrokenSphere via Wikipedia)

Police also raided Carmody’s office and seized his computer, tablets, cellphone and other equipment. Additionally, they used warrants to obtain phone records revealing logs of calls and text messages Carmody exchanged with two San Francisco police officers.

At a special video conference meeting Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $369,000 deal to resolve Carmody’s administrative complaint, which was not litigated in court.

Speaking from his North Beach home via video, Supervisor Aaron Peskin said he was “delighted” the city decided to settle this case.

“This was a shame to the city and county of San Francisco,” Peskin said. “I hope that we never in this town ever again suppress the rights of the free press.”

The police department came under heavy scrutiny for potentially violating California’s journalist shield law and the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to a free press. After initially defending the raids, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott publicly apologized in late May for targeting Carmody.

Five warrants that authorized the searches were deemed illegal and quashed last summer by the same five judges who initially approved them. Unsealed warrant applications show police did not inform judges that Carmody had a valid press pass issued by the San Francisco Police Department.

A press advocate from the First Amendment Coalition, which hired a legal team to get the Carmody warrants unsealed, harshly criticized judges who permitted the raids. David Snyder, executive director of the coalition, said the five judges should have known Carmody was a journalist because the warrant applications stated that he “profits financially from every story he covers” and that police knew him as a “stringer,” an industry term for a freelance news reporter.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Snyder said he is pleased Carmody will be compensated and that “this is at least a tacit acknowledgment by the city that they seriously overstepped their bounds here.”

Snyder is urging the city to enact rules and policies to ensure police never use search warrants to unmask a journalist’s confidential sources again. Under California’s journalist shield law, government agencies must use subpoenas to obtain a journalist’s notes. That process gives journalists a chance to argue against the subpoena in court.

“There’s no opportunity to contest a search warrant,” Snyder said.

Snyder said his group had plans to meet with San Francisco Mayor London Breed within the next few weeks to discuss their concerns about free press protections, but that meeting may be postponed due to the Covid-19 virus public health crisis.

“I think there needs to be accountability on some level at least in a sense that officials acknowledge this never should have happened and demonstrate steps to prevent this from happening again,” Snyder said.

The city’s Department of Police Accountability (DPA) launched an administrative probe into the Carmody warrants. On March 3, DPA Director Paul Henderson said the investigation is ongoing and that a final report is expected within the next few months.

“We’re still in the process of following up on information with our investigation and continuing to ask for more evidence from and through the department,” Henderson said.

According to Henderson, all members of the police department, including the chief, can be investigated by his office for violating laws or department policies.

Carmody’s attorney Ben Berkowitz of the firm Keker Van Nest said his client is pleased with the outcome.

“From day one, Bryan’s first priority has been to protect his sources and to stand up and insist on accountability at the SFPD for its attacks on the free press,” Berkowitz said in an email. “We’re pleased that the Board of Supervisors and SFPD have taken responsibility.  We look forward to seeing real reform and Bryan is looking forward to continuing his work as a journalist in San Francisco.”

The San Francisco Police Department deferred comment to the City Attorney’s Office, which did not immediately return an email request for comment.

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