The First Amendment Coalition has prevailed in unsealing a fifth and final warrant that targeted freelance journalist Bryan Carmody, capping a months-long fight for transparency in the now-infamous raid that drew widespread condemnation.
A San Francisco judge on Aug. 22 issued an order granting FAC’s motion to unseal a warrant application for a search executed on Carmody’s phone records. In the same order, the judge quashed the warrant. The San Francisco Police Department on Aug. 30 released the records.
With San Francisco Superior Court Judge Joseph Quinn’s ruling, all five warrants — authorizing searches of Carmody’s home, office and phone records — are now part of the public record. Those warrants have also been rendered void, with five different judges granting Carmody’s motion to quash. Carmody, represented by Thomas Burke, argued the warrants were issued in violation of California’s shield law, which protects journalists from being forced to disclose confidential sources or hand over unpublished materials.
“We are grateful that Judge Quinn, like four judges before him, finally recognized the serious constitutional violations here — and that he recognized the public’s right to know what police told him before he approved the search warrant,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “However, none of this should have happened in the first place. Police should have never sought this warrant, Quinn should have never approved it, and FAC should not have had to file a motion to unseal materials that California law makes clear should have been public many, many weeks ago.”
Carmody became the target of police amid a leak investigation related to news coverage of the death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. When Carmody refused to give up his sources, police showed up at his home equipped with a sledgehammer and pickaxe to try and batter down his front gate.
Carmody turned to FAC and its Subpoena Defense Initiative to find qualified legal counsel to defend his rights. FAC then rallied a coalition, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the SPJ NorCal Chapter, to get the warrant applications publicly released.
These records have proven critically important in understanding what led to the aggressive and unlawful searches of a working journalist, an attack on press freedoms unlike any in recent memory.
The unsealed warrant applications and related court rulings show failings at multiple levels, including:
- Police did not include in their applications key information about Carmody’s profession, omitting that he had a department-issued press pass, an obvious sign of his work as a journalist;
- Police described constitutionally protected and routine newsgathering activities as criminal conduct;
- Judges Gail Dekreon and Victor Hwang authorized broad searches of Carmody’s person, properties and vehicles despite being told Carmody was someone who “makes a career out of producing/selling hot news stories.”
“The Bryan Carmody saga is a stain on San Francisco history that can’t be erased by a few court rulings,” Snyder said.
Separately, FAC has sued the San Francisco Police Department and Mayor London Breed under the California Public Records Act and San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance for additional records related to the Adachi death and subsequent leak probe. That lawsuit is ongoing.
Duffy Carolan of Jassy Vick Carolan represented FAC, RCFP and SPJ NorCAL in moving to unseal the Carmody warrants. Aaron Field appeared on behalf of the coalition at an Aug. 16 hearing before Judge Quinn.
First Amendment Coalition
Jassy Vick Carolan