Three San Francisco Superior Court judges on Friday ordered warrants obtained in the search of a freelance videographer’s phone, home and office to be nullified and their contents unsealed due to the Police Department’s violation of California’s shield law that protects journalists.
The three rulings followed a judge’s order last month to quash and unseal the first of five search warrants police obtained before raiding Bryan Carmody’s home and office on May 10 in their investigation into who in the department leaked a confidential report on the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Carmody, a freelance journalist, had sold the report to three television news stations shortly after Adachi’s Feb. 22 death. He had a press pass issued by the Police Department. The raid sparked a national controversy over an apparent violation of the First Amendment.
“It is indisputable that Mr. Carmody is a journalist under the definition of California’s shield law and the shield law would protect Mr. Carmody,” Judge Victor Hwang said in his ruling on the warrant police obtained to search Carmody’s office.
Judges Gail Dekreon and Christopher Hite in separate hearings earlier Friday ordered the warrants police obtained to search Carmody’s home and phone quashed and unsealed, leaving one warrant unresolved, which a judge is scheduled to rule on later in August.
“It’s very satisfying to have three judges quash the warrants,” Carmody’s attorney, Thomas Burke, said. “It’s an important ruling to make it clear that issuance of warrants against journalists should not happen.”
The judges ordered police to return all of Carmody’s seized property and to destroy any material they obtained from the illegal searches, including names of contacts, phone numbers and other digital information.
The judges will also release the previously sealed affidavits for the warrants after redacting information like names of civilian witnesses, phone numbers and addresses. Copies of the documents are expected to be released Monday.
Judge Rochelle East redacted a paragraph from the March 1 affidavit she ordered unsealed last week, saying, “The Court specifically finds that that paragraph contains information about a confidential informant.”
The Chronicle obtained the redacted portion of the affidavit, which legal counsel for the Police Department, Ronnie Wagner, had fought to keep sealed.
The paragraph showed that the police chief’s spokesman alerted inspectors in the Internal Affairs Bureau that Carmody had sold the report to television stations. David Stevenson, the director of strategic communications, didn’t tell the inspectors the chief’s office had issued Carmody a press pass, said Michael Rains, an attorney for the sergeant who wrote the warrants.
“At approximately 12:30 p.m. Acting Captain Braconi informed me that Media Director David Stevenson met with a confidential media source from a Bay Area news company,” Sgt. Joseph Obidi wrote in the redacted portion of the warrant. “The confidential source informed Stevenson that a person known to the source and Stevenson as Bryan Carmody had obtained the report and was offering to sell it.”
Chief Bill Scott had defended the raid on Carmody for two weeks before changing course and apologizing. In a press release May 24, Scott wrote, “I am specifically concerned by a lack of due diligence by department investigators in seeking search warrants and appropriately addressing Mr. Carmody’s status as a member of the news media.”
The statement riled members of the department’s rank and file and Obidi’s attorney, who said the chief had overseen every aspect of the investigation. And the redacted portion of the warrant shows the chief’s office had identified Carmody in the first place.
What’s more, The Chronicle learned, there was more to the chief’s decision to stop backing the raid. Scott changed course after City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the chief he could not defend the raid, according to several sources with knowledge of the discussion. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Scott said he turned the administrative investigation over to the city Department of Police Accountability and called for an outside agency to criminally investigate the leak at the request of Mayor London Breed. No agencies have stepped up to take over the criminal probe.
It’s not clear whether police identified the person who leaked the report to Carmody.