SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A California judge on Friday quashed a fifth and final warrant that authorized police to search a journalist’s home, office and phone records, but questions remain as to why the warrants, now deemed illegal, were issued in the first place.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Joseph Quinn ruled a warrant for freelance reporter Bryan Carmody’s phone records violated the state’s journalist shield law, which protects reporters from searches targeting legally obtained materials.
It was the final warrant to be quashed and unsealed by five separate judges over the last month. The police department was ordered to destroy all information obtained from the warrants.
San Francisco police raided Carmody’s home and newsroom office in May while searching for the source of a leaked police report on the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
The warrant quashed by Judge Quinn is one of three targeting Carmody’s phone records. The warrants revealed phone numbers for every call and text message sent and received, along with time stamps for each communication over a limited time period.
Previously unsealed materials show police learned from one phone warrant the names of two police officers Carmody exchanged calls and text messages with on Feb. 23, the day after Adachi died.
Police did not inform judges that Carmody had a press pass issued by the San Francisco Police Department in four unsealed warrant applications. Two judges were told that Carmody worked as a “stringer,” or freelance news reporter that earns money selling stories to media outlets.
“More questions could have been raised by some of the judges,” Carmody’s attorney, Thomas Burke, said Friday.
Burke insisted that a comprehensive review is needed to determine how the illegal searches were allowed to occur.
“It’s critical there be a process to determine what went wrong so what happened here is not repeated,” Burke said.
After initially defending the raid on Carmody’s home, Chief Bill Scott apologized on May 24, saying that police investigators “should have done a better job.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this month that Scott’s spokesman David Stevenson told police investigators that Carmody was offering to sell the leaked police report to media outlets, information he learned from “a confidential media source from a Bay Area news company.”
Department of Police Accountability Director Paul Henderson confirmed last month that the city’s police watchdog agency is investigating the Carmody warrants. He said all members of the department, including the police chief, can be investigated for violating department policies and laws.