Just hours after a San Francisco court ordered the city’s police to return a journalist’s property seized in a raid, the chief of police said the journalist had “crossed the line.”
In a statement on Tuesday, May 21st, Chief William Scott said the journalist in question had crossed a line when he allegedly joined a conspiracy to steal a confidential report. Scott added that despite the raid, he still respected the news media.
The journalist, Bryan Carmody, had his home and offices raided by members of the police. The raids were aimed at uncovering the source of a leaked police report into the unexpected death of the city's former elected public defender, Jeff Adachi.
Tensions have been rising as the case progresses, particularly among journalism advocates. As a result, increased pressure has been placed upon elected officials to defend the press.
Authorities claim there was reason to believe that a police department employee was involved and had been in contact with Carmody.
"We believe that that contact and that interaction went across the line. It went past just doing your job as a journalist," said Scott.
He added: "This is a big deal to us, as well it should be. It's a big deal to the public. It's a big deal to you all."
Scott said the primary target of the ongoing investigation remains the employee, who has yet to be identified by investigators. The secondary focus, added Scott, is Carmody who may have acted from a profit motive. Alternatively, investigators believe Carmody could also have been motivated by a desire to tarnish Adachi's reputation.
Thomas Burke, who is the attorney representing Carmody, declined to comment on the case. Likewise, Carmody also failed to respond to emailed requests for comment.
Carmody did state, through a Twitter post, that he was happy to have his equipment returned but that he would still have to replace numerous items for security reasons.
His main goal, he said, is to ensure "that nothing seized can be used against myself, North Bay Television News or our sources."
Media groups across the United States have criticised the raids that took place May 10th. Many have described the raids as being a violation of California’s shield law, which is specifically aimed at protecting journalists from search warrants.
According to AP, the case is expected to return to court soon. Carmody's attorney and media organisations have lodged a request to unseal warrant materials and to have search warrants revoked. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng has not ruled yet on those requests but he has set deadlines for further filings.
Mayor London Breed was also slammed for failing to quickly condemn the police actions. When officers arrived at Carmody's home, they used a sledgehammer to gain access to his home. Carnody was then handcuffed for several hours, mainly because the police thought there was the possibility Carnody may have had firearms inside his home.
Breed initially defended the raids but on Sunday he posted messages on Twitter saying she was "not okay" with raids on reporters.
District Attorney George Gascon, whose office would normally be responsible for possibly prosecuting Carmody, also condemned the police’s actions. Gascon said he has not yet seen the warrants, which are sealed, but he could not imagine a situation where warrants would be appropriate.
"Seizing the entire haystack to find the needle risks violating the confidences Mr Carmody owes to all his sources, not just the person who leaked the police report," he said in a tweet on Monday.
The police chief acknowledged the uproar, saying that in hindsight the department could have done things differently and will strive to learn from its mistakes.
"We respect the news media," he said. "We have to own what we own and move forward and try to get better at what we do."