Attorneys Ask Judge to Unseal Warrants S.F. Police Used in Raid of Journalist's Home, Return Seized Items

San Francisco police cars sit parked in front of the Hall of Justice. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An attorney took legal action in state court on Thursday to demand the release of items taken from freelance journalist Bryan Carmody's home and office during a San Francisco police raid last week.

Separately, a group of First Amendment advocates asked a judge to unseal the police department's application for the raid's search warrants.

The raid on Friday was part of a criminal investigation into what police say was the illegal release of its report about the Feb. 22, 2019, death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Carmody said a confidential source gave him the police report and then he sold it to several news outlets.

San Francisco Superior Court judges Gail Dekreon and Victor Hwang signed warrants authorizing the San Francisco Police Department to search Carmody's home and office. They took computers, cellphones, cameras and flashdrives, among other things.

"The search warrants that were issued to Mr. Carmody were not proper," said Carmody's attorney, Thomas Burke.

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According to Burke's legal filing, the searches violated state laws, including California's shield law, which protect journalists from revealing their sources and from being subject to search warrants for materials collected during newsgathering.

The judges were aware of Carmody's job when they signed the warrants, said San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer. She said she spoke to SFPD Chief William Scott about the raid; the SFPD has not responded to questions about the reasons they gave the judges for the search.

A motion to unseal SFPD's application for the warrants was also filed Thursday by the First Amendment Coalition, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

"These documents are of the utmost public interest because they'll help to explain what happened here — how things went off the rails such that a police department you know essentially broke down the door of a journalist put him in handcuffs ... and took materials they're not entitled to take," said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

Elected city officials have largely stood by the raid or stayed silent.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Wednesday she supports the judges' decision to issue the search warrants.

"Our role is to follow the law, and the judges ultimately make the decisions," Breed said. "They made the decision. And so at this point, you know, I support their decision."

But Supervisor Hillary Ronen spoke out against the raid.

"The police have gone about this completely wrong," Ronen said.

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"I don't love that (Carmody) took this document that should never have been released in the first place and sold it off to news outlets as a salacious story to hurt Jeff's legacy and his family," Ronen said. "But that doesn't mean that we undermine one of the most important hallmarks of our democracy because we don't like what this individual is doing."

The San Francisco District Attorney's office did not review the warrant before it was filed, a spokesman said in a statement.

The police have said that "the citizens and leaders of the city of San Francisco have demanded a complete and thorough investigation into this leak."

"We are committed to maintaining the public’s trust, investigating any allegations of misconduct and holding those responsible for such acts accountable," a SFPD spokesperson said in a statement.

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