After San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott conceded in May that a raid on a journalist was likely illegal, he said in a department-wide email that he was “concerned by a lack of due diligence by department investigators in seeking search warrants.”
But a redacted portion of a search warrant obtained by The Chronicle on Thursday shows it was the chief’s spokesman who told investigators that freelance journalist Bryan Carmody had sold television stations copies of a confidential police report on the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
“At approximately 12:30 p.m. Acting Captain Braconi informed me that Media Director David Stevenson met with a confidential media source from a Bay Area news company,” Sgt. Joseph Obidi wrote in the redacted portion of the warrant. “The confidential source informed Stevenson that a person known to the source and Stevenson as Bryan Carmody had obtained the report and was offering to sell it.”
Though Stevenson, who reports directly to Scott, told the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau about Carmody, he didn’t mention that the chief’s office had issued him a press pass and that Carmody was protected under California’s shield law, said Michael Rains, Obidi’s attorney.
Stevenson, a former Bay Area television news reporter, directed questions to Scott’s earlier statements about the case.
Rains accused the chief of blaming investigators for the mishandled investigation. He said Obidi included all the information he had at the time in the warrant affidavit, including that Carmody was a “Freelance Videographer/Communications Manager, USO Bay Area.” Had he known Carmody had a press pass, Obidi would have included that in the warrant, too, Rains said.
“It’s clear the department is trying to protect the chief’s office and deflect their culpability — if there is any — for what occurred with respect to Carmody’s status under the shield law,” he said. “This is not a case to point the finger at Sgt. Obidi, who acted reasonably. That’s ridiculous. That’s absurd.”
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Rochelle East redacted the passage in the March 1 affidavit when she quashed and unsealed the 12-page document last week. East redacted the paragraph after meeting in chambers on July 18 with Ronnie Wagner, legal counsel for the San Francisco Police Department.
“The Court specifically finds that that paragraph contains information about a confidential informant,” East said. “That informant would suffer retribution should that identity be made clear or public.”
It’s not clear if East was referring to Stevenson or the unnamed “media source” as the informant.
The affidavit accompanied the first warrant police obtained to search Carmody’s cell phone records before the infamous May 10 raid on his home and office that drew national scrutiny over possible First Amendment violations. California’s shield law protects journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources and specifically bars police searches.
Investigators were trying to find out who in the department leaked Carmody the police report, which revealed Adachi died on Feb. 22 in a mysterious apartment with a woman who wasn’t his wife. Many city officials saw the leak as an attempt to smear Adachi by the police force he often clashed with.
Scott defended the raid for two weeks amid the backlash before abruptly changing course and apologizing. He said he changed his position after personally reviewing the case file, including the warrant affidavits. He said he was “concerned” the March 1 application didn’t adequately identify Carmody as a journalist.
But The Chronicle learned Thursday there was more to the decision. Scott changed course after City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the chief he could not defend the raid, according to several sources with knowledge of the discussion. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
In a May 24 department-wide email, the chief wrote, “I am specifically concerned by a lack of due diligence by department investigators in seeking search warrants. This has raised important questions about our handling of this case and whether the California shield law was violated.”
Scott said he turned the administrative investigation over to the city Department of Police Accountability and called for an outside agency to criminally investigate the leak. No agencies have taken over the criminal probe. It’s not clear if police identified the person who leaked the report to Carmody.
Scott’s email drew backlash from the department’s rank-and-file officers, who believed it to be an attempt to deflect blame. Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association, said, “The chief was actively involved in directing the investigation.”
In a scathing letter the day after the chief’s apology, Montoya wrote that Scott “showed everyone in the SFPD, and all San Franciscans, what his character consists of and it was a pathetic, deceitful and shameful display of self-preservation, finger pointing, and political kowtowing.”
In her ruling, East said the warrant “should not have been issued” and ordered it to be unsealed. “The fact that he has a press pass from the San Francisco Police Department indicates to this court that he is a journalist,” she said.
Both Rains and Carmody’s attorney are now questioning why the legal counsel for the Police Department asked the judge to redact the portion of the affidavit that points to the chief’s office.
“It doesn’t reveal a name, so I don’t know why it would need to be confidential,” said attorney Thomas Burke, who represents Carmody in the effort to quash the warrants. “This is not a good look for everyone involved.”
Two other San Francisco Superior Court judges who signed warrants in the case will hold hearings on Friday on whether to quash and unseal the documents.
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