A free-speech advocacy group filed a motion in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday to unseal applications for search warrants obtained by police before they raided the home and office of a journalist last week.
Freelance stringer Bryan Carmody’s home and office were raided May 10 in connection with an investigation into a leaked police report on the February death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. According to the San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition, they filed the motion on behalf of Carmody and with help from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
The motion is set to be heard Tuesday morning at the Hall of Justice in Department 22.
Leaders of the coalition said the search warrants in this case should already be public because the warrants were executed. In a statement, coalition executive director David Snyder said:
“Our motion to unseal aims to answer one of the most disturbing mysteries of this case-how two judges separately issued warrants that allowed police to raid the home of a working journalist in order to reveal that journalist’s source.”
“This obvious and unlawful intrusion on press rights demands accountability and accountability starts with knowing the facts.”
Coalition leaders said that in order for police to get a search warrant to seize property police must show that it’s likely stolen or embezzled property will be found at the location.
In making their case to a judge, police should have told the judge that Carmody is a working journalist and the warrant should not have issued. According to the coalition, the California Shield Law generally prevents law enforcement from forcing journalists to hand over unpublished material, including confidential sources.
State law also says authorities are not allowed to use a search warrant to obtain material protected by the state’s journalist shield law, according to the coalition.
The coalition said it wants the applications unsealed to find out whether police told the judges that Carmody was a journalist or judges were told and ignored the fact.
Carmody, 48, and a 29-year stringer journalist, has been accused of selling the leaked police report to local news outlets for $2,500, however, Carmody said the price was much lower.
According to Carmody, during the raid last week, 10 police officers participated, seizing several items, including laptops and cameras. They also handcuffed him and detained him for nearly six hours, while trying to get him to divulge who leaked the police report to him.
Two FBI agents were at the scene, but the agency has said its agents did not participate in the execution of the police search warrant. The agents were at Carmody’s home for about 10 minutes in order to interview him, FBI officials said.
Although Carmody was not ultimately arrested, he said he has yet to get his equipment back from police, which he uses to earn a living:
“How long am I supposed to be out of business? How long am I supposed to wait?” he said. “They took every computer out of my home that I owned. They took every digital photo that I’ve ever taken; terabytes and terabytes of data.”
Carmody was even forced to buy a new cellphone recently, he said. Of the motion filed Thursday, Carmody said:
“The basis of my motion is this is illegal and I’m a journalist… What they (police) should’ve done is gotten a subpoena; they should’ve sent a subpoena and we should’ve litigated in court.”
During a San Francisco Police Commission meeting on Wednesday, Police Chief William Scott maintained that the search warrant was approved by two judges and legal in all aspects.
Scott said the search warrant came after city leaders demanded at a Board of Supervisors’ hearing last month that the leak be investigated. He added that any SFPD member found to be involved would be held responsible.
Also last week, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office said that while it sought to find out who within the Police Department leaked the report to Carmody and what kind of punishment they would face, the public defender’s office maintained it does not have control over how SFPD conducts its investigations and supported Carmody’s efforts to seek remedy.