On Friday, May 10, life for San Francisco freelance news videographer Bryan Carmody took a major turn: Police took a sledgehammer to his front gate in search of the name of the person who released a confidential investigative police report on the death of a public defender. Carmody had sold a package of content to three news stations about the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi, which included the leaked police report.
There were eight to 10 officers conducting the search with guns drawn and wearing bullet proof vests, justified through a search warrant on the grounds of “stolen or embezzled property,” according to the Los Angeles Times story, “When a reporter would not betray his source, police came to his home with guns and a sledgehammer.” Carmody was placed in handcuffs in his home as officers seized what Carmody claims is between $30,000 and $40,000 worth of hard drives, computers, cellphones and cameras. Also obtained were check stubs from TV stations and receipts.
“It’s designed to intimidate,” Carmody’s lawyer, Thomas Burke, said of the search. “It’s essentially the confiscation of a newsroom.”
Burke said that it is normal to issue a subpoena for such information, i.e., the name of the leaker. And then the journalist has recourse with an attorney about how to respond. That was not the case here. Carmody said that leaks of the report were happening all over the place, including to the San Francisco Chronicle, which did not get the report from Carmody.
Now, upon reflection, there is a lot going on with this issue, including the need for privacy for the family and the legal autonomy regarding police investigations — so much so on the latter that, if a person is in any way affiliated with leaking confidential reports, civil rights are eroded at a fast pace. The First Amendment should protect the press, but police activities apparently precede any rights the press may have. Further, to go after a lone journalist versus, perhaps, the San Francisco Chronicle should be telling about how the police pick their battles.
In the digital age, where practically nothing is private — from arrest records to the latest gossip on social media — we must wonder why there is so much credence given to the privacy of anyone. Adachi’s death, according to the coroner’s report (which was made public legally), was due to alcohol and cocaine overdose. The details about how he was staying over the weekend at an apartment connected to a woman who was not his wife might be salacious to some, but such private behavior should truly come as no surprise in this day and age. And in the end, so what? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Regardless of the difference of opinion on what should remain in private, there should be no excuse for police overreach and intimidation. In fact, unbeknownst to many, the U.S. House of Representatives received bipartisan support and passed the Protect and Serve Act of 2018, which would essentially make violent crimes, or attempted, against officers a federal hate crime, ramping up the punishment aspect. The reasoning: 128 officers were killed on duty in 2017. Unfortunately, the number killed by officers in 2017 seems to have been brushed off by these legislators: 1,147. (There is a difference between being born a minority or professing a belief voluntarily versus choosing to be an armed officer, despite the news about police conduct as a whole.)
Given that district attorneys are well known to routinely default to any officer’s version of a story, and considering that in California, body camera footage is still not always accessible by the media or the public — and there are various California codes utilized by attorneys working for government to protect the evidence, especially when it comes to crimes against officers who make up the charges — what exactly are we as a society enabling? And for what reasons?
It’s not easy working in the field of journalism, becoming better known for biased reporting and a disregard for privacy. But journalism itself offers vital checks and balances on government and lawmakers. Enabling police to have ultimate protections without any accountability — that we should fear more than any leaked report about our private lives, especially after death. In the end, if any were to be harassed, intimidated, even killed by police in what may appear to be an unjust situation, it is only through the press and creating awareness that the public can have recourse . . . including in the case of Carmody.