Freedom of the press is one of our essential democratic values. It basically refers to the idea that the government isn’t allowed to interfere with the media. But earlier this month, police in San Francisco forcibly raided the home and office of Bryan Carmody, a freelance journalist who refused to name his sources in a story he’d sold about an ongoing confidential police investigation. Was this a violation of the Constitutional right to a free press? Here, Election Central takes a closer look.
Carmody had recently released to several press outlets details about the ongoing police investigation into the death of San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi. Adachi died in February at the age of 59. He was a sharp and outspoken critic of the police. After he died, the police report contained many unseemly details, leading people to wonder if the police were deliberately trying to hurt Adachi’s reputation. This report was then leaked by an unknown source to Carmody, who then sold the story to the press.
After the story broke, San Francisco police contacted Carmody to ask if he would reveal his sources. He refused. So this month, the police responded by breaking down the front gate of Carmody’s home with a sledgehammer. Once inside, they seized $30,000 to $50,000 worth of equipment, including Carmody’s computer and hard drives, cellphones, cameras, and other devices. They then handcuffed Carmody, drove him to his office, and raided that as well. Throughout this process, they continually asked Carmody to reveal his sources. He refused, repeatedly asking for a lawyer. Carmody was held for five hours (without being arrested) before he was released.
According to the San Francisco police department, a judge had granted them a legal warrant to search Carmody’s home and office. As a result, the police say that they were well within their rights and that the search was a necessary part of their criminal investigation into who leaked the confidential report of Adachi’s death.
But Carmody and his lawyer insist that this was an intimidation move by the police, as well as a violation of Carmody’s rights. They argue that if the police wanted the information, the proper procedure would have been for them to have sent Carmody a subpoena for it, and given him the chance to find a lawyer. But by seizing the information the way they did, they set a dangerous precedent for other law enforcement agencies to do the same thing in the future.
During the raid, the police eventually found the leaked report in a safe in Carmody’s home. But he continues to refuse to reveal his sources. Journalists across the nation are speaking out against what they see as a troubling violation of the rights of all journalists, as well as a threat to the existence of a free and independent media in the future.
Dig Deeper What part of the United States Constitution specifically guarantees freedom of the press? In your opinion, were the San Francisco police within their rights when they raided Carmody’s home and office or did their actions violate the Constitution? Explain.