Judge Unseals, Tosses Warrant Used By The San Francisco PD To Obtain A Journalist's Phone Records

from the have-fun-sleeping-in-the-fucked-up-bed-you-made,-SFPD dept

Back in May, the San Francisco Police Department raided the home of a local "stringer," hoping to discover who had leaked a sensitive police report to the journalists. This raid violated the state's journalist shield law and the First Amendment. Since it was obvious the source of leaked document was an SFPD officer or employee, the raid was also incredibly stupid… unless the real point of the show of force was to discourage journalists from publishing leaked documents.

It took a few days before the SFPD police chief was willing to condemn the raid. According to the chief, the still-unseen affidavit glossed over the target's occupation -- an omission that likely would have seen the warrant application tossed if it had been included.

Speculation about the contents of at least one of the warrants is about to come to an end. The judge overseeing stringer Bryan Carmody's challenge of the warrant has ordered the affidavit to be unsealed.

“The search warrant will be unsealed with the exception of one portion,” San Francisco Superior Court Judge Rochelle East said in court.

One paragraph of the 11-page warrant must be blacked out to protect the identity of a confidential police informant. The unsealed file will be released by July 23 at 10 a.m. to attorneys for three press advocacy groups and a freelance journalist whose home was raided by police.

The same judge has also declared the warrant invalid. Matthew Keys has more details at the California Globe:

A judge in San Francisco tossed a search warrant she issued against a freelance journalist in May, saying police did not disclose to her that the target of the warrant worked in the news media industry.

The ruling, handed down in San Francisco County Superior Court, means materials gathered from the home and office of journalist Bryan C. Carmody cannot be used as evidence against him or anyone else as police continue their investigation into the leak of documents and photographs related to the death of former San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Unfortunately, this only takes care of one of the warrants targeting Carmody. This one sought phone records linked to the numerous cellphones Carmody owns. The other warrants -- targeting Carmody's home and office -- are still being challenged.

The good news is those warrants are likely to meet the same fate. It's highly unlikely the affidavits attached to those search warrants included the fact that the target was a journalist. Two more hearings are set to discuss those warrants, but it seems pretty clear from the ruling here that SFPD officers lied to a judge (or judges) to get around the state's shield law.

If those hearings go the same way, the SFPD will lose all the evidence it collected during its bullshit raid. It won't have anything to use against Carmody, but it seems unlikely a prosecution would even be pursued at this point. But a stack of bad warrants also invalidates anything it might have wanted to use against the employee who leaked the document. The SFPD probably should have kept its internal investigation internal, rather than bring it to the doorstep of a journalist's house.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, 4th amendment, bryan carmody, investigation, journalism, phone records, san francisco, sfpd, warrant

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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Jul 2019 @ 8:17pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Not sure if you're disagreeing with me or the state of the law,

    The latter. My objection is not that I don't believe you, it's that I do. Police should not be allowed to benefit from an illegal action(search or otherwise), as allowing that provides entirely the wrong incentives to the very people who are supposed to uphold the law and be held to higher standards.

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