First Amendment

Police Raid on Journalist's Home Has Grave First Amendment Implications

Bryan Carmody refused to name the source of a leaked police report.


When San Francisco police arrived at journalist Bryan Carmody's apartment last week, they smashed the building's gate with a sledgehammer, placed him in handcuffs, and raided his home with guns drawn.

They left with his notebooks, computers, phones, and various other electronic devices, as well as a police report on the death of Jeff Adachi, the city's public defender.

"I knew what they wanted," said Carmody in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "They wanted the name."

That is, they wanted the name of the person who leaked the police report to Carmody, who then sold it to three local news outlets. His company, North Bay News, tracks stories overnight and sells the resulting footage and information to television stations for their round-the-clock coverage.

Agents had attempted to identify his source several weeks prior; Carmody says he "politely" declined to provide it. The department then sought warrants for the raid, raising serious First Amendment concerns around Carmody's protections as a journalist.

The police report about the death of Adachi—whose reputation was defined by his penchant for criticizing the police—provided gossipy fodder for San Francisco's local news in late February. Laden with a string of scandal-ridden details about his final moments, it said he had been with a woman who wasn't his wife in an apartment that had "cannabis gummies," "empty bottles of alcohol," as well as an "unmade bed"—the latter of which was widely publicized with photographs. The salacious and often irrelevant specifics, later leaked to several journalists, sparked speculation that the police department was looking for the last laugh against the city's top public defender, who wasn't exactly known for making their jobs any easier.

"There were leaks happening all over the place," Carmody told the L.A. Times.

But the particulars of the police-Adachi feud are no longer of import to Carmody. What does matter to him are the circumstances surrounding his confiscated equipment, without which he cannot run his company.

The raid may have broken California state law, which shields journalists from being held in contempt for declining to name a source. It also excludes protected items from being subject to search warrants.

But those warrants—one for his home and the other for the office of North Bay News—were issued in spite of Carmody's professional background. "It's possible that the courts decided that because Carmody is a freelancer, he is not subject to the shield law," Aaron Field, an attorney with the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner. "That is not correct."

Police Commissioner John Hamasaki tells the Examiner that the information was not obtained "in the context of his duties as a reporter," but as a salesman. That's a dubious assumption at best: Although Carmody lacks a specific platform, his work is clearly journalistic in nature. A disregard for his First Amendment protections is not justifiable—it's merely convenient.

That's not lost on NoCal's Society of Professional Journalists, which conceded in a statement that "news organizations should disclose when content has been provided by outside sources, whether paid or not." Carmody's business model gives them ethical pause—perhaps for good reason. But that doesn't justify the police department's recourse.

"While there may be legitimate questions on the circumstances surrounding the reporting of Adachi's death, the seizure of any journalist's notes or other reporting materials sets a dangerous precedent," the statement continued. "An attack on the rights of one journalist is an attack on the rights of all journalists."

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46 responses to “Police Raid on Journalist's Home Has Grave First Amendment Implications

  1. “raising serious First Amendment concerns around Carmody’s protections as a journalist”
    What protection? What, exactly, makes him so special that laws do not apply? Equal protection of the law should mean equal protection, not some people are more equal than others.
    Would he still be special if the story was about the financial crimes of the Clinton foundation?
    Where is the line between what Murrows was, and this guy, and any random social media poster blathering on about vaccines (for or against)?

    1. What, exactly, makes him so special that laws do not apply?
      What laws do not apply to him because he’s a journalist?

      1. The raid may have broken California state law, which shields journalists from being held in contempt for declining to name a source.

        I don’t know the specific law being referenced (so the article may be misrepresenting it) but under the 1st, 4th, and 14th amendment it should have to protect everyone, not just journalists

        1. “The press” is just another term liberals have coopted to mean “our press. ”

          Agreed that anyone and everyone is a journalist.

          1. Quite to the contrary, there are all kinds of outdated “laws” on the books that don’t need to be followed in actual law enforcement situations, and one of them is this so-called “First Amendment” baloney we keep hearing about, which everyone knows is limited to whatever Eugene Volokh says it should be anyway. Declining to name a source, sure, but there are all kinds of exceptions and limitations and this urgent situation was one of them. As for “anyone” being a journalist, I would hardly call fake Jim Ardis, or the Onion, or our nation’s leading criminal “satirist” a journalist of any sort. See, for example, the documentation at:


            1. So how was this situation urgent?

    2. Equal protection means that anyone reporting on government coverups is protected from this kind of bullying. The founders were not thinking of old, established media empires when they enshrined ‘Freedom of the Press’ in the First Amendment. They were thinking of small groups of malcontents with a printing press, running off political broadsides and subversive pamphlets.

      1. Yep, and if 2A only protects flint lock muskets, state of the art when 2A was ratified (a favorite claim of gun control nuts), then the 1A free press clause only protects single sheet hand operated presses. 🙂

        1. The gun control nuts are rather particular about what case law they’ll accept. So they just ignore anything that doesn’t support their ideology. While they champion freedom of the press when it protects ‘their’ message, they otherwise pretend that the first two amendments don’t exist.

          When confronted with this:

          “Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844, 849, 117 S.Ct. 2329, 138 L.Ed.2d 874 (1997), and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, e.g., Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 35–36, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001), the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”
          -District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) at 582

          They’re response is: “Doesn’t look like anything to me”

          1. Oh No! I used they’re instead of their. The grammar Nazis will hunt me down and correct me. Thankfully, I’m a descriptivist and thus to immune there pedantic whining.

    3. Hilariously, this is *exactly* what the case is about. If Carmody is just another plebeian freelancer or contractor, he’s fucked. If he’s a bona fide journ-o-list, it was a violation of his rights:
      “An attack on the rights of one journalist is an attack on the rights of all journalists.”

      Assholes on all sides.

      1. If he is not considered a journalist with super powers and special protections could he not be called a whistle blower which does have further protections, not that our government has been abiding by those laws either

    4. S.F. and Los Angles have long been authoritarian strongholds. Civil Liberties are their biggest joke. While they do hold the area in a tyrannical death grip. they do not control the entire country. It is very difficult for me to post anything critical of them. They have tried very many times to block or censor negative comments. Occasionally they have success. One must be diligent and resourceful to stay ahead of them. They are a failed system and their end is in sight. We do not want an authoritarian police state.

      1. Welcome to Nazi Germany of the 1930s. Every Journalist was in fear for their lives if they said one thing outside of the party lines. What happened here is off limits, making known false claims to get a warrant usually invalidates the warrant retroactively. Several major court cases over that already as there has been for protection for the Press. It is not optional in any way. You do not cross that line and these Thugs, did exactly that – and did it, knowing it was illegal. No better than enforcers for a mob boss. And just about as dumb.

    5. Like this is the first time the pigs and the govt. didn’t follow the Constitution or laws. These things are only followed when its convenient for them!

  2. This stinks of government corruption. Pure and simple.

  3. What lbtf said.
    The First Amendment (and the 4th, also violated here) is not for journalists, it’s for everybody. Reason, of all sites, should be sensitive to this encroachment on freedom by means of degrading the language. Salesmen have exactly, precisely, the same rights as journalists, no more, no less.

    1. As others have noted, Carmody has no protections “as a journalist.” He has the same protections as all citizens

      1. From the article: “…raising serious First Amendment concerns around Carmody’s protections as a journalist.”
        The focus of the article keeps re-centering on the whole “as a journalist” issue. That’s pretty sad coming from Reason. Or anyone else.
        I’d have preferred a bit of analysis if not full on laughing and pointing at the attempt to distinguish the rights of salesmen from the rights of journalists, rather than jumping on the “journalists important, salesmen not so much” nonsense.

      2. Actually “as a journalist”, he does have some protections that are not granted to the rest of us. Those extra protections come from California law.

        The First, Fourth and other Amendments define a floor, not a ceiling. They are a minimum of rights which the Federal government must respect. Under the 14th Amendment, those minimums are (mostly) imposed on State and subordinate governments as well. But they are still a floor. Individual states are allowed to grant higher levels of rights to their citizens. The Fourth Amendment, for example, allows for civil asset forfeiture. Several states have said that even if the Constitution doesn’t forbid it, we will.

        In this case, Carmody is citing a California-specific law that arguably does provide protections over and above the protections available to the rest of us – and California chose to limit that extra grant to just “journalists” (though they didn’t do a very good job of defining who is and is not a journalist for the purposes of that law).

        1. The article is (at least in part) citing the First Amendment:

          The department then sought warrants for the raid, raising serious First Amendment concerns around Carmody’s protections as a journalist.

          Additionally, any law creating enhanced rights for certain classes of people may run afoul of the 14th amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The poorly defined class of “journalist” as well as the fact that the government gets to define this enhanced class as well as its rights, also would seem to run afoul of equal protection

          1. Yeah, the article kind of wanders all over the place about the legal issues. They mention but do not clearly distinguish between the constitutional and statutory issues.

            However, laws creating enhanced rights for certain classes of people have been upheld in lots and lots of situations. To take just the simplest of examples, the law grants lower tax rates for married people than for singles. The legal standard necessary to survive an Equal Protection challenge is pretty low.

            1. I’m not sure progressive tax rates quite fall into the same category as civil rights

              1. Then pick a different right. Minors can’t vote. Commercial speech is disfavored. Automatic weapons owners are subject to extraordinary scrutiny and licensing. Apartment owners have (except in one jurisdiction and that only recently) different protections from searches by police. Certain occupations require licensing but others don’t. Police get qualified immunity but we don’t.

                The point is that many things that should be subject to Equal Protection challenge get evaluated on the Rational Basis standard. And that’s a really, really low standard. A state’s decision to grant journalists and only journalists some extra protection by statute would almost certainly pass that hurdle easily.

          2. Equal protection, Mr. Smith? Come on, you know as well as I do that as long as the plaintiff does not fall into a “protected category,” the equal protection clause is a dead letter. Deference to the Legislature and all that rot.

            You don’t want people to accuse of Lochnerism, do you?

        2. Exactly. There are so many fucking idiots on reason who are “herp derp he’s a citizen he gots the same rights as me” . 1st amendment spells out distinctly that the press is a special group. We should put these guys on the dotard list along with Trump

  4. Didn’t see the outrage here from the SWAT raids on Trump’s (cooperating) lawyers and associates.

    How typically hypocritical of the Left and the press. But I repeat myself, of course.

    1. Sources please….

      1. What part of “Didn’t see the outrage here…” did you not understand?

        He is making an observation. Whether accurate or inaccurate remains to be determined, but what is known is that he is his own source.

        1. It’s not inaccurate and it’s an outrageous claim. The only people who got swatted were obvious criminals like Manafort.

      2. there was no outrage so there would be no source to site

    2. uh… go up to the top of the page and click on the magnifying glass.

      type “roger stone raid”. hit “enter”.

      1. Uh, post the passage demonstrating outrage. It’s the one behind the rock after the magnifying glass.

  5. So the police murdered or contracted to murder Carmody. And are now scrambling to cover it up.

  6. So with this California law, how does the court recognize journalistic credentials?

    1. After the fact?

  7. Generally speaking I would say it is entirely newsworthy when a public official who is also an officer of the court dies from an apparent illegal drug overdose.

    That simple fact should have been made known.

    All the rest, while related, is salacious.

    1. the question becomes with the over stating of circumstances were they not just trying to paint a picture of how he died to cover up how he actually died. was the overdose forced. the story is fishy. BTW some people only make thier bed when company is coming

      1. lol I never make my bed, I’ll make the guest bed, but that’s it. Making up beds is for amateurs and serves no purpose

  8. Police Raid on Journalist’s Home Has Grave First Amendment Implications

    Are there any other kind?

  9. Sue, sue and then sue some more.

  10. The Chron’s been covering this for the past several days; the proggies are eating their own over it.
    Adachi was a darling of the proggies; he also seemed to have some ‘issues’ in finding his way home at night, among others. For some reason, the Chron never mentioned that, but certainly ran with the ball after the leak occurred.
    Today, the publisher took over half the editorial page to lambaste the PD, claiming they are ignoring CA law; for some reason, no one is mentioning the name of the judge who signed the damn thing.

  11. Of all places to cultivate National Socialist bullying, California is the one I least expected. Thanks to Reason for bringing this into daylight.

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