SFPD Didn't Tell Judge Subject of Search Warrant in Adachi Leak Was a Journalist

SFPD raided a freelance journalist's home and office on Friday, May 10, as 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. (Courtesy of Bryan Carmody)

A San Francisco police sergeant did not explicitly tell a judge that a search warrant probing the leak of a police report on the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi was for the phone records of a journalist, according to the newly unsealed warrant application.

The same judge, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Rochelle East, ruled last week that the March 1 warrant for Bryan Carmody's phone records was improperly issued because he is a journalist. First Amendment attorneys have argued that the warrant violated California's shield law, which protects journalists from revealing confidential sources.

The police report, leaked within about a day of Adachi's death on Feb. 22, revealed that he was at a friend's apartment with a woman who was not his wife and that officers found empty bottles of alcohol and marijuana gummies. Carmody sold the police report, along with footage he shot of the apartment, to several news outlets.

SFPD Sgt. Joseph Obidi wrote in the warrant application for Carmody's phone records that he found a LinkedIn profile that listed Carmody's job as "Freelance Videographer/Communications Manager, USO Bay Area." Obidi did not include information from the profile that says, "Bryan has decades of experience shooting, editing and reporting news. His content has appeared on national networks including Fox News, CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, Telemundo and Univision, as well as all Bay Area stations."

The profile has not changed since Sgt. Obidi applied for the warrant, according to Carmody. The application also did not mention that Carmody had a current SFPD press pass.

Sponsored

The search warrant application makes clear that Obidi believed a police officer or other Police Department employee leaked the report and was suspected of a crime.

The police raid on Carmody's San Francisco home was conducted on May 10. The police used a sledgehammer to try to gain entry, handcuffed Carmody and took some of his property. Although the warrant for phone records was unsealed Tuesday, there are still outstanding motions to quash and unseal four other warrants.

"This is not the best moment by either the judge or the officer," said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School. "The big question I have on my mind is whether it was intentional or just really bad police work."

Levenson added that the judge should have asked more questions about Carmody's connection to the TV stations that broadcast the police report.

The San Francisco Department of Police Accountability — a civilian investigations agency — is probing the execution of search warrants served on Carmody, as well as the leak of the police report on Adachi's death, according to a Police Department spokesman. The city's Police Commission is also reviewing SFPD protocols "involving members of the news media."

Police Chief William Scott said in a statement two weeks after the raid in May that he was "concerned by a lack of due diligence by department investigators in seeking search warrants and appropriately addressing Mr. Carmody’s status as a member of the news media."

Read the unsealed warrant materials below.