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Judge orders police to return journalist’s seized equipment

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A journalist whose San Francisco home and office were raided earlier this month as police investigated a leaked police report will be getting back his property that was taken in the raid, an attorney for the Police Department said Tuesday in court.

During the court hearing, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng heard motions filed last week on behalf of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody, seeking to unseal and quash the search warrants served during the May 10 raid and to have his property returned, including laptops and cameras.

Ronnie Wagner, attorney for the San Francisco Police Department, said that Carmody’s property had been made available for him to pick up since Monday evening.

Carmody’s attorney Thomas Burke maintained that because Carmody is a journalist, the search warrants and seizure of property were in violation of his First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights as well as the state’s Shield Law, which prohibits law enforcement from forcing journalists to hand over unpublished material or reveal confidential sources.

After hearing the motions, Feng then ordered Carmody’s attorneys and the Police Department to return to court on June 10 to set a hearing date.

Police said they’d been investigating Carmody in connection with a police report into the Feb. 22 death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi that was sold to local news media within hours of his death.

During a Board of Supervisors hearing into the leak last month, supervisors had asked the Police Department to investigate the leak. Outside of court, Burke said:

“I have no understanding of what the investigation is, other than that the Board of Supervisors indicated that they wanted to get to the bottom what happened with the leak … It doesn’t make sense to me why you would issue a search warrant to a journalist.”

Regarding the items that were seized by police, Burke said:

“It’s good that we’re getting it back, but it’s critical to know what if anything they kept copies of, or what, if anything, they’re doing with that information, which in our view was improperly seized.”

Carmody had said that during the raid, police handcuffed him for six hours and asked him to divulge his sources, and he refused. Carmody was not ultimately arrested.

Police also seized all of his equipment, essentially halting his freelance news company North Bay Television News, he said.

In a statement on Tuesday morning, following the court hearing, he said:

“I am pleased that everything that the San Francisco police took from my office and home will be returned today. This includes the police report, video, records, notes, computers and personal electronics. Our goal remains prevailing on our motion to quash so that nothing seized can be used against myself, North Bay Television News or our source. We also look forward to learning the basis for the search warrants being issued.”

Although police have maintained that the search warrants were lawful, several city officials have denounced the raid on Carmody, including District Attorney George Gascon.

On Monday, Gascon said that although his office hasn’t seen the warrants, he said:

“I can’t imagine a situation where a search warrant would be appropriate.”

“Journalists have multiple sources to whom they owe their confidences, similar to an attorney who has multiple clients to whom they owe attorney-client privileges. Seizing the entire haystack to find the needle risks violating the confidences Mr. Carmody owes to all his sources, not just the person who leaked the police report.”

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