The San Francisco police chief apologized on Friday for ransacking the home and office of a freelance journalist to find out who disclosed a police report on the unexpected death of the city's former public defender.
Chief William Scott told the San Francisco Chronicle that the searches were probably illegal and said "I'm sorry it happened".
The California Shield Act protects journalists from search warrants and the US Supreme Court has ruled that journalists are free to report on noteworthy news in stolen documents.
Since the mandates are under seal, it is not known what information the police provided to support the research or to what extent they revealed that Bryan Carmody is a journalist.
Scott said he had reviewed all the research material and was worried that the first mandates would not adequately identify Carmody as a journalist.
"The description of what his role entails as a journalist – there should have been more clarity there," Scott said. "This will be a concern that needs to be explored further."
Carmody was handcuffed for six hours on May 10 while police with a hammer searched for evidence to determine who provided a confidential police report on the death of the late public defender, Jeff Adachi, after refusing to disclose his source.
The case alarmed journalism and pressured elected leaders in the politically liberal city to defend the press.
Scott initially defended the raid, telling the city police commission that his department went through the appropriate legal process.
On Tuesday, Scott said Carmody "crossed the line" and said he suspected the journalist had taken part in a criminal conspiracy to steal an internal police report, motivated by profits or animosity towards Adachi.
Carmody said he didn't pay the report or conspired to steal it, but he simply bought it as part of his job as a journalist.
The mayor London Breed had requested an independent investigation into how the police handled the escape and the investigation into internal affairs, which could lead to discipline for the officers. Scott said the department will not use any evidence taken in the raids.
Journalists and other first amendment organizations want a judge to revoke the search warrants that authorized the raids and to steal the materials presented to them.
"We are encouraged by the chief's apology but we think there must be a real reform here," Carmody's lawyer, Ben Berkowitz, said. "The city must take steps to ensure that nothing like this happens to journalists again."
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