San Francisco police officers were instructed not to use their body-worn cameras during their illegal raid of journalist Bryan Carmody’s home and office last year, according to an internal department memo.
The memo, obtained by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, suggests that police not only violated Carmody’s rights, but also violated their own policy when conducting the raids. The department’s general order on body-worn cameras states that all on-scene officers “shall” activate their devices in a list of circumstances, including “when serving a search warrant or arrest warrant.”
The memo is in reference to a May 10, 2019, incident in which police sledgehammered the front gate of Carmody’s Outer Richmond home, held him in handcuffs for hours and seized his phone, computers and other equipment. Officers were looking for the source of a leaked police report that contained details on the February 2019 death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
The two-paragraph document, written two weeks after the raid by Lt. Pilar Torres, does not offer a full rationale on why the cameras should not have been activated for the operation, except to note that “(Acting) Captain Braconi cited this situation was a confidential investigation and BWC footage could compromise the investigation.”
Torres states in the memo that he reiterated Capt. William Braconi’s order to personnel. The memo was sent to Braconi, the commanding officer and San Francisco’s Risk Management Office.
Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a spokesman for the Police Department, confirmed the authenticity of the document, but he said he could not provide additional details due to ongoing administrative investigations.
Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that provides legal resources to journalists, called the situation “deeply, deeply troubling.”
She stressed that police body cameras are intended to build transparency and trust among communities and those sworn to protect them — especially in controversial situations.
“Here we had an unlawful raid, on a journalist’s home … where SFPD instructed not to use body cams, notwithstanding the language of policy,” Townsend said. “We’d like to know why that’s the case.”
The Reporters Committee received the police memo following a public records request. The organization has additionally filed a motion for the return of Carmody’s seized materials, sued to unseal Carmody’s arrest and search warrant records, and is seeking records related to the FBI’s involvement in the raid.
Carmody has worked as a freelance journalist for three decades, and he obtained the Adachi death report from an unnamed source before selling it to local television stations.
Judges who signed off on the search warrants have since said that police did not inform them that Carmody was a journalist, and they declared the searches illegal.
The raids touched off an uproar among journalism and First Amendment advocates, and the city ultimately agreed to pay $369,000 to settle a claim made by Carmody.
California’s shield law protects journalists by allowing them to keep their sources confidential and withhold unpublished information. It also bars judges from issuing warrants to search a journalist’s property to unmask news sources.
San Francisco’s Police Department, like most agencies with body cameras, requires officers to activate their devices in most situations in which they come into contact with the public. In addition to executing search warrants, this includes traffic and pedestrian stops, vehicle pursuits and use-of-force incidents.
However, the department’s policy prohibits body camera use in a few situations. They involve encounters with a sexual assault or child abuse victim, strip searches and situations that could compromise the identity of a confidential informant or an undercover operative.
Megan Cassidy is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @meganrcassidy