Photo by Julian Mark

Despite meager attendance, all eyes were on Chief Bill Scott at Wednesday night’s San Francisco Police Commission meeting.

One of the first agenda items centered on San Francisco Police Department’s widely criticized May 10 decision to serve a search warrant on the home and office freelance journalist Bryan Carmody, who sold multiple television stations the leaked police report pertaining to the death of former Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Reporters and a handful of citizens watched Police Commissioner John Hamasaki question Scott about the department’s handling of this issue. Three photographers stood on the right side of the room, snapping pictures at a blistering pace.

Scott, speaking in a reserved tone, tiptoed his way around the topic. “We are committing to building the public trust,” he said, referring to the improperly leaked police report. “This was a breach of the public trust and I understand that.”  

Unlike the chief of police, Hamasaki dove right into the matter at hand. “When the homes of journalists are raided, it doesn’t matter how we feel about the underlying case; I think we should be concerned,” he said.

The commissioner inquired whether police considered a subpoena instead of a search warrant and police officers subsequently taking a sledgehammer to Carmody’s door.

Unfazed, Scott stuck to his tempered answers. “Commissioner, we went through an appropriate legal process,” he said.

 “Okay,” Hamasaki whispered into his microphone. 

Within hours of Adachi’s death on Feb. 22, the police report had been improperly leaked — and lurid details and photographs began appearing on TV news reports. Carmody, a longtime freelance cameraman, obtained a copy of the report from a source he will not divulge. He has said that he sold it in a package of material to three TV stations.

During an April Board of Supervisors hearing, SFPD brass admitted the leak was improper and apologized to Adachi’s family. “I want to let you know we are working tirelessly on this case,” Capt. Bill Braconi, the acting head of the department’s risk management division, told the supes. “It’s a priority case. I want to give you complete confidence in that. It’s not an easy investigation. it’s complex. We’ve dedicated a lot of resources to it.”

Some three weeks later, a phalanx of officers raided Carmody’s home and office in search of the source of the leak within their own department. Despite the signatures of two judges, this action would appear to be a clear violation of California’s “shield law” that protects journalists from divulging their sources and disallowing warrants to be issued to seize them.

Commissioner Damali Taylor asked Scott to confirm that it was not within SFPD’s jurisdiction to release a redacted version of the sealed documents presented to a pair of judges who signed off on the search warrants.

“That’s correct,” Scott confirmed. The chief does not favor such a move.

Scott then pivoted into speaking on his preferred topic: a slickly edited explainer video showing off the police department’s new website. Scott is featured in the video next to SFPD Tech CIO Division Director Susan Merritt.

Public commenters, however, seemed more inclined to speak about the SFPD’s treatment of Carmody.

Pacific Media Workers Guild Officer Bill Snyder asked Scott why the FBI was involved in last Friday’s raid. Police Commissioner Robert Hirsch made it clear to Snyder that Scott was not obligated to respond during public comment. “Well, let’s see if he can answer that,” Snyder remarked.

Chief Scott answered. “I cannot speak on that.”

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