Judge Unseals Warrant Used to Search Journalist’s Home

(BrokenSphere via Wikipedia)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – More court documents unsealed Tuesday indicate a San Francisco judge signed off on a police raid of a freelance journalist’s home despite knowing the man is a member of the press.

San Francisco Superior Judge Gail Dekreon specifically approved a search of Bryan Carmody’s home and personal phone, as police sought to uncover the source of a confidential police report on the death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi on Feb. 22.

Adachi was found with a woman other than his wife when he died from a mixture of cocaine and alcohol that exacerbated a heart condition, according to an autopsy.

Carmody is a freelancer with a police department press pass who obtained the report on Adachi’s death from a police source and sold it to three TV news stations.

Four judges have since unsealed and quashed, or set aside, search warrants of Carmody’s home, office and phone. On Friday, Judge Joseph Quinn is expected to rule on motions to quash and unseal a fifth warrant for Carmody’s phone records.

Tuesday’s unsealed warrant signed by Dekreon shows that Police Sgt. Joseph Obidi described Carmody as someone who “makes a career out of producing/selling hot news stories.”

“I also believe that Mr. Carmody kept the original copy of the report as part of his portfolio/records of news stories that he has participated in to keep track of his achievements,” Obidi wrote in his warrant affidavit.

Glen Smith, litigation director at the First Amendment Coalition, a free press advocacy group that fought to unseal the warrants, said it should have been pretty clear to Dekreon that Carmody was a reporter protected by California’s journalist shield law.

“The face of that warrant application is that this guy was a journalist. The SFPD didn’t put it up in neon lights that he was a journalist with a press pass, but when you read the description of what this was doing, it becomes apparent he was a journalist,” Smith said by phone.

The document unsealed Tuesday also revealed police learned through a prior search warrant the names of officers that Carmody exchanged calls and text messages with on Feb. 23. “I believe that seizing and searching Mr. Carmody’s personal cellphone (handsets) will prove Mr. Carmody was in contact with a member of the SFPD to illegally obtain the report in this case,” Obidi wrote.

Portions of Tuesday’s warrant echo a warrant to search Carmody’s office, signed by Judge Victor Hwang.

Hwang unsealed and quashed that warrant last week, which notes that Carmody told police investigators that he “profits financially from every story he covers” and that police knew him as a “stringer,” or freelance news reporter.

Smith said neither Hwang nor Dekreon have really taken responsibility for violating Carmody’s civil rights, noting that the California Penal Code § 1524(g) protects a journalist’s confidential sources from search warrants. The warrants these judges issued contained the most detailed information about Carmody’s press activities.

The first warrant to search Carmody’s phone records was quashed in July by Judge Rochelle East, who said she was unaware that Carmody had a press pass. Smith said the other judges have followed suit without explaining their reasons for initially approving the warrants.

While Obidi did not say outright that Carmody was a reporter, Smith said it should have been apparent to Dekreon.

“You might reach the conclusion that she was misled by the police department,” Smith said. “I think the facts were there.”

Smith said one overlooked aspect of the case is that Carmody has been treated like a criminal for broadcasting information about the death of a public official.

“It’s rotten at its core. I don’t think anybody stood back to ask that question, what exactly is the crime here?”

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