‘I’m sorry’: Scott concedes officers botched probe of journalist’s home
After two weeks of growing outrage, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott apologized Friday for raiding a journalist’s home and office in a bid to unmask a confidential source, admitting the searches were probably illegal and calling for an independent investigation into the episode.
Police “should have done a better job,” Scott said in an interview with The Chronicle. “I’m sorry that this happened. I’m sorry to the people of San Francisco. I’m sorry to the mayor. We have to fix it. We
know there were some concerns in that investigation and we know we have to fix it.”
Scott said he has now reviewed all material relating to the May 10 search of freelance videographer Bryan Carmody’s home and office, which was part of an investigation into who leaked him a salacious police report on the February death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi — a report Carmody then sold to three television stations.
The chief said he was “concerned” that the applications for the search warrants didn’t adequately identify Carmody as a journalist — particularly a warrant to search his phone.
California’s shield law protects journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources or hand over unpublished information including notes, recordings and pictures. It specifically bars police from obtaining this sensitive information through searches.
Scott said the department will drop its investigations and turn them over to independent agencies. The department relinquished a criminal investigation into the leak, which could prompt charges, and an internal affairs investigation, which could lead to discipline for officers. It’s not clear who will step in to investigate the criminal side, but he said the city Department of Police Accountability — an independent oversight body created to look into complaints against police — has agreed to investigate any administrative violations.
The chief said Mayor London Breed had requested the independent probe. He also said the department will not use any evidence seized in the raids and will not turn it over to other investigators.
In a statement Friday, Breed said she was glad the chief “acknowledged the department's mistakes and apologized,” but was “deeply disappointed by the actions taken in this case up to today. This is unacceptable and we have to do better.”
“The actions being taken today are the right thing for the department and for the city,” she said. “We have to restore the trust among the department, the public, and the media. An independent and free press is essential in our city and our society.”
Scott’s position on Friday was a reversal of his earlier public comments on the raid, which sparked outrage locally and nationally from lawmakers and press-freedom advocates. Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris on Thursday joined in condemning the police action.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who was the first of many on the Board of Supervisors to criticize the raid, said Scott’s apology and the independent investigations are “absolutely the right thing to be doing.”
“I understand that it took him a couple weeks, but the fact that he is unequivocally apologizing and laying out clear actions that he’s taking in response is what you would want from a leader,” she said.
Carmody said he obtained a police report from a confidential source shortly after Adachi’s death at age 59 on Feb. 22 before selling it. Some city officials were outraged over the leak and suspected someone in the Police Department was trying to smear the late public defender, who was a police watchdog and crusader against officer misconduct.
In a news conference Tuesday, Scott said his department had suspected Carmody took part in a criminal conspiracy to steal an internal police report. Carmody said he did not pay for the report or conspire to steal it but simply acquired it as part of his work as a journalist.
A week earlier, Scott had defended the raid in front of the city Police Commission, saying, “We went through the legal process and the appropriate legal process for a criminal investigation.”
But on Friday, he said that wasn’t the case.
“One of the issues that I saw in this is in the initial warrants,” he said. “There’s one that’s particularity troubling and concerning. The issue is the clarity in the warrant. The description of what his role entails as a journalist — there should have been more clarity there. That is going to be a concern that has to be explored further.”
Carmody’s attorney in the criminal case, Ben Berkowitz, said the Police Department should “take steps to make sure this never happens again.”
“I’m calling on them to come out and clear Bryan’s name with a statement that he has engaged in no criminal activity whatsoever,” he said. “One of the things I’ve found so offensive about the San Francisco Police Department’s conduct is it picked on an independent journalist. They wouldn’t have dared break down The San Francisco Chronicle’s door.”
Police asked Carmody to reveal his source in April. When he refused, officers showed up with a sledgehammer, battering ram and pry bar before seizing his computers, cameras and phones at his home and office. They handcuffed Carmody as well.
Scott said the officers who executed the search did not consult with the district attorney’s office before obtaining the warrants — a violation of department policy. He’s also pledged to review department policy regarding warrant applications and tactics around police searches.
“The look of that was not good,” he said “We look back on every situation and we have to look at the tactics and we have to own up to things that we can do better and that’s definitely something we can do better.”
Thomas Burke, an attorney representing Carmody on First Amendment issues, said police violated federal and state law — including California’s broad shield law that protects journalists. Burke, who has represented The Chronicle and its parent company, Hearst Corp., in other cases, filed a motion this week to quash the warrants.
The warrants were filed under seal, so it’s not clear what police listed as the probable cause justifying the searches. The judges who signed the warrants, Victor Hwang and Gail Dekreon, have not commented.
“I’m sorry that this happened. I’m sorry to the people of San Francisco. I’m sorry to the mayor. We have to fix it. We know there were some concerns in that investigation and we know we have to fix it.” S.F. Police Chief Bill Scott