Police had warrant to search journalist’s phone before raid

The San Francisco police department obtained a warrant to search the phone of the freelance journalist at the center of a controversy over a leaked report, and were authorized to conduct monitoring on the device months before a raid on his home and office, documents released Friday showed.

In a statement emailed to this newspaper Friday, an attorney for the journalist, Bryan Carmody, accused police of obtaining the warrant illegally. Police raided Carmody’s home earlier this month after unflattering reports about late San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi were leaked to Carmody, who in turn sold them to news stations.

Adachi died in February and was a staunch critic of police.

“Mr. Carmody received today a previously undisclosed search warrant obtained secretly and illegally by the San Francisco Police Department on March 1, 2019,” Carmody’s lawyer, Ben Berkowitz said in the statement. “The SFPD appears to have used the illegal warrant to spy on Bryan’s movements, phone calls and communications.”

Late Friday afternoon, Police Chief Bill Scott announced that he has reached out to outside agencies to take over the investigation “into the unauthorized release of the Jeff Adachi police report.”

“At the request of San Francisco Mayor London Breed, we are seeking an independent, impartial investigation by a separate investigatory body,” Scott said.

The case has generated controversy, because California has a shield law that protects journalists from being bullied by police into revealing confidential sources.

“This is an alarming and deeply disturbing attack on the free press in an attempt to unmask Mr. Carmody’s confidential source,” Berkowitz said. “The warrant provided for ongoing surveillance of a journalist. The SFPD’s actions are plainly illegal under the First Amendment and California’s Shield Law. This is outrageous conduct by the SFPD. We are calling on city officials to hold the SFPD accountable.”

Scott addressed the shield law in his statement.

“I am specifically concerned by a lack of due diligence by department investigators in seeking search warrants and appropriately addressing Mr. Carmody’s status as a member of the news media,” Scott said. “This has raised important questions about our handling of the case, and whether the California shield law was violated.”

Scott also said the department will continue its own investigation into the obtaining of the warrant.

“I am committed to leading a department that is transparent, accountable and reflects the values of [San Francisco]. The residents … our mayor and city leaders, news media and the hardworking men and women of the police department deserve better. We understand that faith in the SFPD has been shaken, and we will work hard to restore it.”

Scott last week apologized for the raid, calling it improper. Days earlier, he announced that Carmody was under criminal investigation for conspiring with a police department employee to steal a report about Adachi, saying Carmody “crossed a line.”

Scott made those comments hours after agreeing to return the equipment from Adachi that police seized in the raid.

After Scott’s reversal and apology, the San Francisco Police Officers Association called for his resignation.

Staff writer Thomas Peele contributed to this report.