She also introduced a deputy from the public defender’s office, Hadi Razzaq, who spoke about a memo his office had compiled and sent to the police with information about a “stringer” — a freelance reporter — who had been offering to sell Adachi’s death report to some news outlets for $2,500.
“If it is true that this report was actually sold, it raises significant ethical concerns, and as you’ve mentioned and Supervisor Ronen mentioned, a betrayal of the public trust,” Razzaq said.
Police officials at the meeting struck a tone of contrition about the leak of the report, which had noted that Adachi had been with a woman who wasn’t his wife and that he had been found unresponsive at an apartment with an unmade bed and empty bottles of alcohol.
They apologized to Adachi’s family and said that they were in the process of investigating the leak.
But a month later, that investigation has caused an even higher-profile headache that has added another layer of intrigue to the death of the charismatic public defender and made this city, a bastion of liberalism, an unlikely flash point in the national discussion about threats faced by journalists.
The police raid Friday of the home and office of the freelance reporter, Bryan Carmody, who says he acquired the police report as part of his work and sold it to local news outlets so they could publish it, has drawn wide condemnation from First Amendment and press advocates, along with many others concerned about the state of civil liberties in the United States.
The police had showed up with a sledgehammer, and searched Carmody’s home with their guns drawn. By the time they were done, they had confiscated tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of cameras, hard drives and computers where he had stored his work. He was handcuffed for six hours.
It was, press advocates say, a law enforcement incursion into a sacred space: a reporter’s private home and materials, which are protected by norms dating back decades, as well as federal and state laws meant to protect the important work of reporting.
“It is a serious case of overreach by the SFPD,” Jim Wheaton, senior counsel of the First Amendment Project, who teaches classes on the law and ethics of journalism at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. “All I can imagine is that they failed to tell the judge who gave them the search warrant that this guy was a reporter.”
The two Superior Court judges who each signed a search warrant for Carmody’s home and office, Victor Hwang and Gail Dekreon, did not respond to questions sent to court spokeswoman Megan Filly. Filly said they were prohibited by state code from commenting on a pending case.
News media associations, among them the Society of Professional Journalists and Radio Television Digital News Association, have condemned the police action.
“It is inherently troubling,” Floyd Abrams, the famed First Amendment lawyer, said in a telephone interview. “Why did they get a search warrant instead of doing what I’m confident they would have done had he worked for the local newspaper” — gotten a subpoena.
Journalists face increasing threats as they work in countries with repressive regimes and dangerously unstable political conditions around the world. But according to analysts, the risks have been rising in the United States since the election of President Trump, who has gone to great lengths to try to both discredit and demonize the news media.
A reporter was body slammed by a congressional candidate the day before the election for asking a tough question. Bomb threats have poured into national newsrooms like CNN. And the Trump administration has stepped up the war on leaks to the media in Washington.
Many were surprised that this latest chapter in this saga came in the Bay Area.
“If feels as if this anti-press sentiment has penetrated even liberal San Francisco,” Ed Wasserman, the dean of Berkeley’s journalism school said in a phone interview. “There’s a sense of entitlement and empowerment that law enforcement now feels, thanks to the anti-press contagion that the administration has propagated. I find it very disquieting.”
Police defended the raid over the weekend, pointing to the demands they were under from elected officials in San Francisco to investigate the leak. They declined to comment further Monday, citing the pending criminal investigation.
Wheaton said that the action appeared to circumvent California state laws that protect journalists from being served warrants or being held in contempt of courts for not handing over their sources.
“No warrant shall issue for any item or items described in Section 1070 of the Evidence Code,” the state’s penal code reads, noting the section that describes the protections given to reporters.
In the Supervisors’ hearing, the public defender’s office had highlighted the payment that the reporter received for the police report, raising questions about whether there was some confusion about the nature of Carmody’s work and how it fits in the world of journalism.
Carmody, 49, occupies a small corner of the industry, working every night from about 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to chase news as it comes across police scanners. He then sells the photos, videos and interview footage to TV stations for their morning broadcasts. He told The Washington Post that he sold his work on the Adachi death report for far less than the $2,500 that has been batted around.
It is not the journalism lionized by Pulitzer Prize committees or film directors in Hollywood; the only notable recent film portrayal of this type of work was the psychopathic character played by Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler.”
But that does not mean it is not journalism.
“I think they’re trying to say he wasn’t acting as a journalist, because he was selling the information,” Wheaton said. “Last I checked that’s what reporters do.”
San Francisco Mayor London Breed did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The city’s district attorney office said it had not been involved in the case.
Carmody says that he hasn’t been able to work without the equipment the police seized.
“I’ve missed several large stories, including a homicide yesterday and another transit-related accident the night before,” he said. “I’m out thousands of dollars of work and tens of thousands of dollars of equipment.”
His lawyer, Thomas R. Burke, sent a letter to the San Francisco Police Department Monday afternoon demanding the immediate return of Carmody’s equipment and threatening legal action if it did not comply by Tuesday.
Still, Carmody said he’s been touched by the reaction around the world, saying he’s seen coverage of his story in media from places like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Europe.
“One of the interesting things to me is that it seems like people from all political worlds are kind of agreeing,” he said. “No matter who they’re blaming it on — ‘liberal Nazis’ or Trump — it’s not a good thing.”