Both the criminal and administrative investigations regarding the cops who improperly leaked a police report detailing the death of public defender Jeff Adachi to a freelance journalist are at a standstill and have likely been irreparably damaged. That became clear following today’s release of the affidavit police presented to Judge Victor Hwang in May before he approved a raid on the office of cameraman Bryan Carmody, who flogged that police report to multiple TV stations.
In this affidavit, unlike others unsealed in the recent past, the San Francisco Police Department didn’t obfuscate to the same degree regarding Carmody’s status as a journalist — a status that, under state law, should have protected him from a raid meant to unearth his confidential sources. While other judges granting since-rescinded warrants could have discovered Carmody’s profession with a simple Google search, the materials put before Hwang noted that Carmody made his living “producing/selling hot news stories,” that he “profits financially from every story that he covers” and that he is a “stringer,” a freelance journalist.
More so than his judicial colleagues, Hwang was given “ample facts” to realize Carmody was a journalist, in the words of David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.
Mission Local reported back in May that the judges in question were not ignorant of Carmody’s profession — though they may well have been ignorant of the law.
But the affidavit released today reveals more.
It reveals that the SFPD had zeroed in on two police officers it suspected of assisting Carmody by removing a copy of the Adachi report from Central Station. The affidavit penned by Sgt. Joseph Obidi notes that he obtained a warrant for Carmody’s phone records, and found calls to these two officers at exactly the times one would expect if they were working with him to leak the report. Video footage revealed one of the officers visiting the station — when he was not responding to any calls or doing any ostensible police work. Obidi suspects he was there for the express purpose of palming the report.
In today’s unsealed document, Obidi further reveals that on March 6 he obtained warrants for those two cops’ phone records, confirming their communications with Carmody.
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It is not yet known if those warrants have been thrown out, but they all but certainly will be. The initial warrant on Carmody’s phone records has been — and that pulls the rug out from under everything. Every investigatory step and subsequent warrant ostensibly stemmed from this misbegotten and since-rescinded warrant on Carmody’s phone.
Both the criminal and administrative investigation would appear to be back at square one. And, in the meantime, the city and its police department have been given a self-inflicted black eye.
And now? Things get worse.
Jeff Adachi died on Feb. 22 of lethal arrhythmia. His subsequent autopsy and other investigations revealed he had trace amounts of cocaine in his system — but, more significantly, he had advanced heart disease, an unhealthy lifestyle, and sorely neglected his own health and well-being.
Adachi was a longtime adversary of the police department and, within hours of his demise, the police report documenting his final hours was improperly leaked to Carmody, who sold it to at least three television stations. The lurid details within this report were media catnip: Adachi died in the company of a mysterious woman in a ritzy pied-à-terre; photos of the sheetless bed and liquor bottles were soon splayed across the airwaves.
In May, police forcibly entered Carmody’s Richmond District home and office. Mayor London Breed and Chief Bill Scott both initially defended the raid, as a means of ferreting out Carmody’s SFPD sources and an investigation of him as an alleged “co-conspirator” in a crime. Both, however, soon backtracked in the face of a firestorm of criticism from First Amendment advocates and others pointing out that such a move clearly contravened state laws and violated the notion of a free press.
The affidavits justifying the phone tap and raids have, one after the other, been unsealed and rescinded, each more damning than the last. So, now it’s time to assess where things are.
And, while nobody could quite plan things out this way, things certainly have worked out well for the people involved in leaking the Adachi report.
Once the document was placed in Carmody’s hands, it was expediently transferred to the outfits that paid for it — and then re-reported by the oufits that didn’t. If the intention was to inflict heavy reputational damage on Adachi, that certainly happened.
Then, the investigation was handled so spectacularly poorly that it’s highly questionable whether anyone will be held accountable — the misbegotten warrant for Carmody’s phone records at the onset has likely undone everything that came thereafter. (This was, incidentally, an Internal Affairs investigation, meaning the SFPD is in the surreal position of now requiring an internal investigation of its internal investigators).
The heavy-handed and illegal raid rendered Carmody a First Amendment hero and martyr, and conferred upon him a degree of legitimacy and gravitas that would have, otherwise, been unobtainable. The only remaining question is not if he’ll receive a handsome settlement but how much — and if, perchance, it’ll be more than the $400,000 the city disgorged to Mario Woods’ aggrieved mother.
Finally, Scott — the Los Angeles import long suspected and despised by the department’s homegrown, old-school, Adachi-hating old guard — had been tarnished. Scott’s right-hand man, Assistant Chief Hector Sainez — who purportedly played a heavy role in this investigation — abruptly retired in late May. Acting Capt. Bill Braconi, the internal affairs head, also retired. As did Mike Connolly, the department’s former chief of investigations.
Scott had hoped to farm out the investigation into this sordid mess to an outside agency. None has materialized and, with the situation in shambles, it’s not clear one will.
The buck stops with the chief, who has been left holding the bag.
It’s a bad look for him. And this city.