FAC Again Prevails in Unsealing Search Warrants Executed on SF Journalist Bryan Carmody

Three San Francisco judges on Friday ordered the public release of sealed applications for three search warrants executed on freelance journalist Bryan Carmody — for his home, office and phone.

The release of these materials should help answer a central question in the Carmody saga: how the San Francisco Police Department was able to obtain search warrants against a working journalist, when such warrants are clearly prohibited under both California and federal law. In announcing her ruling Friday, Superior Court Judge Gail Dekreon said police did not inform her Carmody is a journalist when she authorized a search of his home; the forthcoming records should further explain what police did — and did not — tell other judges when applying for warrants. 

The rulings were in response to a motion brought by First Amendment Coalition, joined by two press-advocacy groups, who have been fighting in court for access to the Carmody warrant materials since May 16. California law generally requires search warrant applications to be made public immediately after police or prosecutors file a search warrant “return” —  a document showing that the warrant was executed. In this case, however, the records remained under seal, creating a shroud of secrecy surrounding the illegal raid.

The rulings granting FAC’s motion came during back-to-back hearings before San Francisco Superior Court Judges Dekreon, Christopher Hite and Victor Hwang. All three judges indicated that the formerly sealed warrant applications should be available today. Their decisions follow a similar ruling secured by FAC on July 18, when Judge Rochelle East ordered police to disclose a different search warrant application for Carmody’s phone — records that exposed that police either concealed or did not know Carmody’s status as a journalist.

SFPD’s May 10 raid of Carmody’s home and office prompted a nationwide outcry against the heavy-handed tactics of police, who showed up at Carmody’s home with sledgehammers and placed him in handcuffs for more than six hours while they seized his computers, phones and notes as part of a leak investigation related to the death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. 

“We are grateful the public will finally be able to see what police told these judges before they authorized these warrants,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “However, these warrants should never have issued in the first place, and the fact that they did is an outrage that can never be repeated. There must be accountability here for this egregious violation of California law.”

Separately, all three judges quashed the three warrants at issue Friday, meaning four of the five warrants issued on Carmody are now void. Carmody is represented by Thomas Burke.

What the judges knew about Carmody’s status as a journalist is critical, as both California and federal law prohibit the use of search warrants to seize journalists’ notes and unpublished materials. The California Penal Code specifically bars the use of warrants to obtain a journalist’s unpublished material; the federal Privacy Protection Act similarly prohibits warrants in such circumstances.

FAC, along with the Society of Professional Journalists (NorCal chapter) and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, has been fighting in court to bring to light these records. The motion to unseal was met with extended delay due to how the Superior Court managed scheduling, spreading hearings out over the course of nearly three months. 

A final hearing before a different judge who authorized a fifth warrant on Carmody is set for Friday, Aug. 16. 

Duffy Carolan of the law firm Jassy Vick Carolan represents FAC and the press-advocacy groups in this matter.

Read Judge Hwang’s order to unseal here

Read Judge Hite’s order to unseal and quash here

Read the full motion to unseal here.

For further information, contact:

David Snyder

Executive Director

First Amendment Coalition



Duffy Carolan

Jassy Vick Carolan