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Judge voids, unseals warrant for journalist in stolen Adachi report investigation

A San Francisco Superior Court Judge ruled Thursday to void a search warrant used to monitor the phone of a freelance journalist as the San Francisco Police Department investigated a stolen police report connected to death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

An attorney for journalist Bryan Carmody had alleged the search warrant, dated March 1, was used to spy on Carmody’s movements, phone calls and communications ahead of a May 10 raid at Carmody’s home and the office of his media business, North Bay Television News.

Police said they’d been investigating Carmody in connection with the theft of a police report in the Feb. 22 death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Carmody somehow obtained the report and sold it to three local news outlets in the hours after Adachi’s death.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi speaks at a press conference announcing eliminating 21,000 individuals’ debts from local administrative criminal justice fees outside City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, Aug 23, 2018. Ching Wong/SFBay
Because Carmody is a journalist, his attorneys maintain Carmody is protected by the state’s Shield Law, which prohibits law enforcement from forcing journalists to hand over unpublished material or reveal confidential sources.

In addition to voiding the warrant executed on the phone of Carmody, Judge Rochelle East also ruled on a separate motion Thursday to unseal the warrant, according to the First Amendment Coalition. East’s ruling to unseal the warrant requires that the police department release the application for the warrant by Tuesday, FAC officials said.

The search warrant application will indicate whether police notified East that Carmody was a journalist when she signed the initial warrant, although in court East said police did not tell her that Carmody was a journalist, FAC officials said.

In a statement, FAC Executive Director David Snyder said:

“The warrant application should shed more light on how the process went off the rails such that San Francisco police executed at least five illegal warrants on a working journalist — an incredible breach not only of state and federal law, but of the public’s trust in both San Francisco police and in the city’s judiciary.”

Carmody has said that during the raid, officers handcuffed him for nearly six hours as they seized several laptops and cameras, among other items, and tried to get him to reveal his source.

Police Chief William Scott initially maintained the raid was conducted lawfully as officers were investigating Carmody as a possible co-conspirator in the theft of the police report. But weeks after the raid, Scott admitted he was “concerned” that police investigators may have failed to properly inform judges that Carmody was a journalist before they signed the search warrants.

He said an outside agency would be taking over the police department’s criminal investigation into the leaked police report. Carmody’s attorneys have filed more motions to unseal and quash other search warrants issued against Carmody by police. Hearings for those motions have been scheduled for next week.

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