A Superior Court judge has ruled that a search warrant issued to police in May for the phone records of journalist Bryan Carmody was improper, and that police must destroy any evidence they obtained through it.
Closing the book on a case that made national headlines because it involved a First Amendment-violating police raid on a journalist's home, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Rochelle East rescinded the search warrant that police obtained for Carmody's phone records, and said it never would have been issued if she had been informed that Carmody was a journalist. As ABC 7 reports, the SFPD sergeant involved in the case said he was not aware of Carmody's profession, even though he had a hard-to-obtain SFPD press pass.
As Thomas Burke, an attorney for Carmody, tells the Examiner of East's decision, "She said that there was no question that he was a journalist protected by the Shield Law."
The case is connected to the untimely death of SF Public Defender Jeff Adachi on February 22, and the subsequent leak of a police report about the circumstances of Adachi's death. Because Adachi was found in an apartment with a woman who was not his wife, and with evidence of recreational drug use, the leak spurred accusations that the SFPD had purposely tried to embarrass Adachi's family as retaliation for years of attacks on the department — the Public Defender's Office having been a frequent foe of officers in court.
The SFPD, facing political pressure after these accusations, vowed to find the source of the leak. And that investigation led directly to the May 10 raid on Carmody's home. Carmody, it was reported, had been peddling the police report to Bay Area news stations for $2,500 the day after Adachi's death, and had obtained it from a source in the department — the SFPD believed they could find the leak in Carmody's phone records or on his computer, so they sought a series of search warrants in Superior Court. The warrant overturned by Judge East was one of six, and the others led to the May 10 raid at Carmody's home and office.
Because Carmody has worked as what's called a "stringer" — someone who takes video footage at crime scenes and sells it to news stations on a freelance basis — there seemed to be some confusion as to whether he was protected under the Shield law. However his SFPD press pass, and the fact that other news organizations including the Chronicle obtained the same police report through sources of their own, quickly ended that confusion.
The affair led to an extraordinary public apology by SFPD Chief Bill Scott on May 24, saying, "I’m sorry to the people of San Francisco. I’m sorry to the mayor. We have to fix it."
When ABC 7's Dan Noyes questioned Scott about the incident, he again said he owed an apology to the people of San Francisco, and added, "We made some mistakes."