The San Francisco Police Department said on Tuesday that investigators now suspect a freelance journalist who had refused to reveal the identity of a confidential source took part in a conspiracy to steal a police report on the death of a public defender.
Police Chief Bill Scott said at a press conference that there is a criminal investigation into whether that journalist, Bryan Carmody, was an “active participant in the commission of the criminal acts beyond his role with the news media.”
“Mr. Carmody was and continues to be viewed by investigators as a possible co-conspirator in this theft rather than a passive recipient of the stolen document,” Scott said. He did not cite any evidence of Carmody’s role in the alleged theft at the press conference.
Scott made the statement after police officials said in court earlier in the day that Carmody will get all of his property back after it was seized in a raid on May 10.
Press advocacy groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, released statements at the time condemning the raid. The Society of Professional Journalists Northern California chapter invoked the law designed to provide legal cover for journalists who want to protect the identity of an unnamed source.
“California’s Shield Law protects journalists from being held in contempt for refusing to disclose their sources’ identities and other unpublished/unaired information obtained during the news gathering process,” SPJ NorCal said. “That this search was carried out weeks after Carmody declined a request from San Francisco police to divulge his sources shows an alarming disregard for the right to gather and report on information.”
The northern California-based freelance journalist told CNN last week that the group of officers produced a search warrant to enter his residence. For the next seven hours, Carmody said, he was handcuffed as officers seized his computers, cameras, phones and notebooks.
The raid of Carmody’s home came after an April 11 conversation with officers in which Carmody refused to tell authorities how he obtained a confidential police report that included information about the February death of prominent San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi, according to Carmody’s attorney Thomas R. Burke.
Burke declined CNN Business’ request for comment about the latest allegations. Carmody did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier in the day, Carmody said on Twitter that he was “pleased that everything that the San Francisco Police took from my office and home will be returned today. This includes the police report, video, records, notes, computers and personal electronics.”
The raid has sparked outrage among journalists and their advocates over what some say is a serious attack on press freedom. San Francisco Mayor London Breed walked back her previous support for the raid in a series of tweets on Sunday morning.
“And the more we learn, the less appropriate it looks to me,” the mayor tweeted. Breed added, “A free and independent press plays a crucial role in our society, and we have to work harder to honor not only the letter of California’s Shield Law, but also the spirit of it.”