When San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi died suddenly in February, hundreds piled into City Hall to celebrate the life of a 59-year-old civil servant taken too soon by a heart attack.
Days later, local outlets reported a leaked confidential police report painting a more complicated, salacious picture of Adachi’s last moments.
Officers found his body, the report said, surrounded by drug paraphernalia and empty liquor bottles in a rented apartment with a woman who wasn’t his wife. Some railed against what they saw as a posthumous smear campaign originating with the San Francisco police, a group with which Adachi had endless bad blood.
Over the weekend, the story got more complex still when officers from that same police department smashed down the door of the freelance journalist who got and sold the report. The officers stormed his home and office to learn his source’s identity.
In life, Adachi was the only elected public defender in the city, and dedicated himself to tackling problems like police brutality. To put it lightly, his position as a top critic of police misconduct did not endear him to the boys in blue.
For example, former police union leader Gary Delagnes wrote a Facebook post upon Adachi’s death: “In my 35 years in law enforcement I have never experienced a more vile, despicable, bottom feeding human being…This is a guy who was a serial adulterer who drove his wife to a suicide attempt. This is a guy who died in an apartment building waiting for a prostitute to return with his stomach medication. Only in San Francisco is Jeff Adachi a hero. Have your hero San Francisco and congratulations.”
When the police report leaked, Adachi’s allies immediately smelled foul play, believing that the police were taking one last crack at their longtime nemesis.
Public defender chief attorney Matt Gonzalez suggested that the police spread the report “to make the circumstances of [Adachi’s] death more salacious.”
City supervisors came down hard on the police for improperly releasing the report, calling for a hearing and reprimanding the officers for “eroding the public trust” in the department. Per the San Francisco Chronicle, two probes were launched: one internal and administrative, and one for any criminal misconduct.
Then, about two weeks ago, reporter Bryan Carmody says the police came calling.
Carmody did not respond to TPM’s request for an interview, but told the Washington Post that during a visit to his home, officers asked him to name his source.
Carmody is a freelance journalist, also known as a stringer. He has carved out a niche working overnight to pick up stories and photos, bundle them and sell them to outlets for their morning news reports. He reportedly put the Adachi death doozy up for $2,500.
He declined to divulge his source to the police, who he says, on this first visit, treated him politely.
Weeks later, the tenor changed when officers returned with a sledgehammer on Friday around 8 a.m.
Per the Post, Carmody yelled down for them to stop, that he would open his door.
“They treated me like I was some kind of drug dealer,” he said, adding that they checked his entire home and office with guns drawn. Carmody was handcuffed for about six hours while the search took place. Officers seized the police report, which was locked in Carmody’s office safe, as well as his electronics.
He was also questioned again, this time by FBI agents as well.
The San Francisco police department declined to answer TPM’s inquiries about their visit to Carmody’s properties or the FBI involvement, citing the “ongoing investigation.”
Spokesperson Officer Adam Lobsinger did provide a statement.
“The search warrant executed Friday was granted by a judge and conducted as part of a criminal investigation into the illegal release of the confidential Adachi police report and subsequent sale to members of the media,” it reads.
“The citizens and leaders of the City of San Francisco have demanded a complete and thorough investigation into this leak, and this action represents a step in the process of investigating a potential case of obstruction of justice along with the illegal distribution of confidential police material. We are committed to maintaining the public’s trust, investigating any allegations of misconduct and holding those responsible for such acts accountable.”
Adachi’s replacement, Mano Raju, hedged his bets after the violent intrusion.
“The consensus at the Board of Supervisors hearing in April was that confidential police reports may have been improperly leaked,” he said in a statement. “Police representatives then committed to investigating the situation. In fact, police officials apologized to Mrs. Adachi at the hearing. To be clear, I have no information regarding the justifications for the search conducted by police. Nothing about this statement should be interpreted as condoning specific police tactics in this matter.”
First Amendment Concerns
Raju’s reticence makes sense, since some First Amendment experts think the police may have broken the law.
Alexandra Ellerbeck, the North America program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, pointed to the protections police may have violated with the raid.
“The bottom line is that it’s incredibly troubling that police officers raided a journalist’s house in order to find out his sources,” she told TPM. “That goes against all of these protections in place on the federal level and on the state level — California has a shield law that provides protection for journalists to not give up their sources. In court they can’t be held in contempt and I believe the statute governing search warrants prevents them from seizing information covered by the shield law.”
David Synder, the executive director at the First Amendment Coalition based in California, called the raid “baffling.”
“California’s shield law usually comes into play when a reporter is a party to a civil lawsuit or the DA or public defender subpoenas the reporter for confidential information, sources, notes, etc,” he said. “And then the part of the California penal code that governs search warrants expressly says that a search warrant can’t be used to get the information referenced in the shield law. That’s why the search warrant against Bryan Carmody is so baffling — it is expressly barred under California law.”
“There are a lot of facts we don’t know,” he conceded, adding that it is not yet public knowledge why the judge approved the police’s search warrant. “But he has certainly been wronged by the police department. They improperly and unlawfully seized all the tools of his trade so he is not able to do his job.”
“The whole thing was heavy-handed to an extreme degree,” he added, bewildered. “According to Bryan, there were around 10 officers, armed, who also had a sledge hammer.
“I mean, they behaved as if they had a fleeing fugitive on their hands, not a journalist.”