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Political Fallout Escalates After SF Police Raid Journalist's Office


Who should be held accountable after police in San Francisco raided a freelance journalist's home and office? They say they were looking for information on who leaked him a police report connected to the death of the city's public defender. First Amendment lawyers say the search violated California laws that protect journalists. Initially, many city officials stood by the raid or were silent. But as criticism increased, the police chief apologized, and now the union representing San Francisco police officers is calling on the chief to resign. From member station KQED, Sonja Hutson reports.

SONJA HUTSON, BYLINE: Two weeks after the raid on Bryan Carmody's home and office, police chief Bill Scott on Friday apologized and then criticized his own department's investigators for a, quote, "lack of due diligence" in seeking search warrants and in the way they dealt with Carmody as a journalist. But the police union says Scott shouldn't be blaming the investigators. Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, says Scott himself was involved in every step of the investigation.

TONY MONTOYA: For the chief to deny any knowledge or to not claim that he had as much knowledge as he has, to save his own skin, to me was just - is just unacceptable.

HUTSON: The case has been making headlines even before the raid. It began with the death of the city's beloved public defender Jeff Adachi in February. The next day, several news outlets ran stories with a leaked police report about the death. It revealed Adachi was at a friend's apartment with a woman who was not his wife and that officers found empty bottles of alcohol and marijuana gummies. The leak enraged city officials.


HILLARY RONEN: To have that type of maligning going on of a public official in San Francisco is disgusting.

HUTSON: That's San Francisco supervisor Hillary Ronen speaking at a city hearing in April.


RONEN: We want a full investigation, and we want accountability.

HUTSON: A few weeks later, police showed up at freelance journalist Bryan Carmody's home with sledgehammers and a search warrant. He let them in.

BRYAN CARMODY: Their guns were out as they searched my property. They handcuffed me right away, and I was in handcuffs for the next six to seven hours.

HUTSON: Police took cameras, computers and cellphones - everything Carmody needs to operate his business. While First Amendment advocates were quick to condemn the raid, city officials known to be very liberal were not. Here's Mayor London Breed a few days after the raid.


LONDON BREED: Our role is to, you know, follow the law. And the judges ultimately make the decisions. And so at this point, you know, I support their decision.

HUTSON: Five days after the raid, supervisor Hillary Ronen became the first public leader to criticize it.

RONEN: I'm just surprised that it wasn't obvious from the get-go to more people. It tested our city's values and commitment to free press.

HUTSON: Then Mayor Breed reversed course, writing in a tweet, I am not OK with police raids on reporters. More elected officials quickly followed Breed in criticizing the raid, all the way up to Senator Kamala Harris. Now, at Breed's request, an outside agency will take over the criminal investigation of the leaked report. Police say Carmody is suspected of being a possible co-conspirator in the leak rather than being a passive recipient of the documents. And there are three outstanding court motions in the case, including one to unseal the application for the search warrants, which could shed light on why they were approved by judges in the first place.

For NPR News, I'm Sonja Hutson in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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