Update (June 18, 2020): This post has been updated to include comment from the San Francisco Police Department.
A San Francisco Police Department memo obtained by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reveals that police were instructed not to use body-worn cameras during last year’s high-profile raid of journalist Bryan Carmody’s home.
In the two-paragraph memo, which the Reporters Committee received through a public records request, Lieutenant Pilar Torres states that he told law enforcement officers conducting the raid “not to utilize our Department issued BWC’s for this operation” because the video footage could compromise the “confidential investigation.”
“Body-worn cameras are designed to increase police transparency and accountability,” said Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “The fact that officers were instructed not to use their bodycams during an illegal raid of a journalist’s home is deeply troubling.”
In an email response to Reporters Committee questions, SFPD spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak said the department is not able to provide additional information about the memo “[d]ue to to pending administrative investigations.”
The SFPD raided Carmody’s home with search warrants and a sledgehammer on May 10, 2019, about a month after the freelance journalist refused to reveal the source of a leaked police report concerning the death of Jeff Adachi, a longtime San Francisco public defender. Officers seized computers, cameras and phones from Carmody’s home before conducting a separate search of the journalist’s office.
All of the search warrants were later deemed illegal under California’s “shield law,” which protects journalists’ confidential sources and materials. And in March, San Francisco agreed to pay Carmody $369,000 to settle a claim filed by the journalist.
The incident sparked nationwide outrage, especially among journalists and press freedom advocates. As the Reporters Committee explained in a special analysis of the raid, no-knock, forced entry search warrants of a journalist in a leak hunt are exceedingly rare. And the unexplained presence of the FBI at the search — and the fact that agents questioned Carmody about his source — amplified the press freedom concerns in the case.
Last May, the Reporters Committee called for an investigation into the raid. The Reporters Committee and a coalition of 60 media organizations then urged a California court to return Carmody’s seized materials.
The Reporters Committee, First Amendment Coalition and Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists also sued to unseal Carmody’s arrest and search warrant records.
The Reporters Committee has also pursued records related to the FBI’s presence during the raid. According to an FBI document obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the Reporters Committee filed in September, FBI agents knew Carmody was a journalist when they questioned him. It is unclear whether the FBI followed Justice Department guidelines requiring authorization from the attorney general before questioning a member of the news media.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.