Free Press

San Francisco Police Got a Warrant to Monitor a Journalist's Phone Before Raiding His Apartment

The move is an assault on the First Amendment.


The saga surrounding the San Francisco police department's raid on journalist Bryan Carmody's home took another twist last week when it was revealed that local law enforcement also obtained a warrant to monitor his phone.

Carmody attracted national attention when police officers, armed with sledgehammers, smashed their way into his apartment, handcuffed him, and confiscated his electronic devices after he declined to name the source of a leaked police report. A freelance journalist, Carmody sold the police report surrounding the death of Jeff Adachi, the city's public defender, to three of San Francisco's news stations in late February. Carmody's company, North Bay News, follows stories overnight and peddles the corresponding information and video footage to local television outlets.

The police raid likely violated the state's Shield Law, which protects journalists from having to name a source. That law also excludes certain items from being subject to search and seizure, meaning that the warrant obtained to monitor Carmody's phone was probably illegal too.

Signed by Judge Rochelle East of the San Francisco County Superior Court, it allowed law enforcement to retrieve all of Carmody's "subscriber information, call detail records, SMS usage, mobile data usage and cell tower data" from February 22 until February 23, the pivotal period surrounding the death of Adachi. It also permitted further "remote monitoring" on the phone "day or night." The warrant does not mention the fact that Carmody is a journalist.

The leaked police report in question caused quite the stir when it first made its way into the hands of local reporters, culminating in the frenzied police raid on Carmody as the cops sought to pinpoint his source. As I wrote back in May:

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.

Police Chief William Scott first doubled down on the raid, but later apologized, suggesting that his staff failed to identify Carmody as a journalist on warrant applications. That accusation set off a new round of he-said-she-said allegations, with the San Francisco Police Officers' Association claiming it was Scott who concealed Carmody's profession. The police union has since called for the police chief's resignation.

NEXT: The Unfulfilled Promise of Tiananmen Square

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s an assault on the First Amendment for sure.

    But not just because it impacted a journalist. That “journalists” get anything resembling “special” rights is laughable. Doing that to this dude is no worse than doing it to any rando. It’s ALL bad.

    1. That “journalists” get anything resembling “special” rights is laughable. Doing that to this dude is no worse than doing it to any rando.

      I don’t think the article (or any other on Reason) is saying anything like “journalists get special rights.” If anything, I take the use of the word “journalist” to refer to any rando who is engaging in the act of reporting.

      1. Police Chief William Scott first doubled down on the raid, but later apologized, suggesting that his staff failed to identify Carmody as a journalist on warrant applications.

        Then why would it matter if the warrant identified Carmody as a journalist?

        1. Because the right to freedom of the press applies to everyone. One way to express that is to say “not just journalists.” Another way is to say “everyone is a journalist.” The two statements have the same effect.

          Sometimes I think commenters here are really just begging for some way to rag on the article’s author.

          1. >>>I don’t think the article (or any other on Reason) is saying anything like “journalists get special rights.”

            the law says it. and in none of the articles on the raid has an author said “hey we’re not special everyone’s a journalist” … Billy doesn’t do anything wrong here but he could have pointed out the obvious unconstitutionality of the law

            1. The law is hardly “unconstitutional,” unless the purported scope of so-called first amendment “protections” is wildly exaggerated. There is no reason at all why colluding with someone who inappropriately steals information should be considered “free speech,” any more than sending out criminal “parodies” here at NYU or elsewhere in the country. See the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case at:


              1. At least OBL is sometimes funny. You need a new shtick.

      2. “Special Rights”?
        You mean what cops, D.A.’s , Clintons, Judges, and every other bureaucrat gets?

    2. Very true, but the thing is the information mentioned in the warrant belongs to the ISP the journalist is using, not the journalist. It is something to remember when using the internet. Once you hit the send button, the information no longer belongs to you.

  2. Where to begin…..
    1)The subheadline refers to the “assault on the First Amendment”, yet nowhere in the text of the article is the First Amendment even mentioned.
    2) Strictly speaking, the article is about the warrant to tap his phone. This has nothing to do with the First Amendment. This is a Fourth Amendment issue. Was the judge justified in granting a warrant based on probable cause? Regardless of the First Amendment, the CA Shield Law specifically protects “journalists”. So the warrant was clearly unconstitutional since there was no probable cause of criminal activity as his activity was protected.
    3) As others have belabored, the First Amendment has nothing to do with “journalists” and everything to do with EVERYBODY and the right to publish whatever they want.

    1. I’d argue that the Shield law should be unconstitutional. Providing EXTRA rights for certain folks should be abhorrent to an equal society.

      1. Yes it should.

      2. absolutely

      3. I guess it depends on the wording of the law. It would seem to me that it protects the act of journalism and and it would not be necessary to be recognized as a professional reporter.

      4. “Providing EXTRA rights for certain folks should be abhorrent to an equal society.”

        You do not favor privilege for “religious freedom” claimants?

        1. It’s a freedom that any one can claim, so no.

          1. The vRev still doesn’t understand he’s practicing his own religion.

      5. It should simply be interpreted to cover anybody who is engaging in journalism, whether paid for it or not.

        And Judge Rochelle East needs to lose her job for signing the warrant.


          “In 2014, East ran for re-election to the San Fransisco County Superior Court.

          As an unopposed incumbent, she was automatically re-elected without appearing on the ballot.”

          You always end up with the government you deserve.

    2. All of that is true Bear. This article does a terrible job of portraying the issues involved. What is really going on here is the police are looking for revenge against whoever embarassed the city official. And that is a problem.

    3. The value of your journalistic credentials is in direct proportion to the size and strength of the legal team backing you.

  3. Who did that journalist work for?
    What is a journalist in the age of the internet?
    Why should any occupation get special rights in a country allegedly based on equal treatment under the law?
    Who is John Galt? (was he a journalist?)

    1. North Bay News
      No occupation should have special rights
      I don’t know, but Cory Booker is Spartacus.

  4. Remember this doesn’t even involve classified material or even grand jury testimony. This all involves some autopsy report on some degenerate city official who was found dead in bed with his mistress after a God know how long binge of hookers and blow.

    The whole thing is about not embarassing one of the priviliged class. It is beyond disgraceful.

    1. This all involves some autopsy report on some degenerate city official who was found dead in bed with his mistress after a God know how long binge of hookers and blow.

      It’s arguably more about a successful public defender who was very vocal about police abuses who was suddenly found dead in highly compromising and disgrace-inducing circumstances, and then the reporter who tried to look into it got thrown in jail.

      Which one might argue has a chilling effect on investigating police corruption.

      1. No matter how you look at it, the only interest here is ensuring that no one embarasses the wrong person.

        1. Or implicates them in a murder conspiracy.

          1. I see no evidence of that. Wouldn’t the girlfriend have had to have been involved?

            1. Wouldn’t the girlfriend have had to have been involved?

              We know exactly one thing about her: she seems to have been around when he died. Girlfriend, or prostitute who’s had a favor called in?

              The Occam’s Razor explanation is that the guy was a seedy public official indulging in some hookers and blow. But the fact that he also suffered from a hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease that caused that blow to kill him and that the police reacted somewhat out-of-proportion to attempts to look further into it, makes it smell a little fishy.

            2. Oh, I got the impression that it was a manufactured scene, as in he was killed and then the scene was dressed up to look like something else happened. But then I read the details and it seems he really did die of a cocaine heart attack.

  5. FDLE announces the arrest of Scot Peterson, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School SRO whose response to the Parkland massacre has been heavily criticized, on charges including child neglect and perjury

    He is a complete dirtbag coward but I am not sure he is a criminal. i

    1. Agreed. This feels retaliatory.

    2. Really? Twitter?

  6. As far as I can tell from the information available, the judge that approved this warrant is typically a family court judge in charge of juvenile dependency cases. Does that strike anyone else as odd?

    1. Yes it is. What strikes me as more odd is just exactly what crime was committed in leaking the details of an autopsy.

    2. Can’t any judge sign a warrant? Regardless of being sober or not?

      1. I’m just glad/ surprised to see a honorable rubber stamp named in a media article, good job Billy!

  7. It is interesting how journalsits are all about privacy when it comes to shield laws but then will happily dox and try to destroy the lives of anyone who so much as makes an internet meme that goes against the journolist narrative.

    Even when they have a point, they manage to be assholes.

    1. Hopefully we can get the Daily Beast on the case and get Tank Man identified.

      1. You joke, but if the Beast could get a few more clicks and stay in business a bit longer, they would abslutely doxx that guy and call themselves hereos for doing it.

        1. I’d link Iowahawk’s take on The Beast doxxing an internet rando, but it’s spread across 15 tweets so you’ll just have to hit his feed yourself.

          1. It is bad enough that they did it. But to out the guy as a dreaded “convicted criminal” when the author of the piece is a no kidding black hat hacker federal felon and congratulate themselves for doing it is just too much. The mass media might be the easiest to hate group of people on earth. Isis and NABLA are more likable than these assholes.

            1. I like Iowahawk a lot but he is being incredibly naive here. The thought process is very easy to figure out and it only tangenially involves Trump. The people who did this are just nasty thugs who want to harm anyone who dares disagree with them. If that deters other people from doing so all the better. But the real thrill is ruining the lives of anyone they see as the “other”.

              1. I don’t think you read all 15 tweets. While admitting that all the behavior here is legal, he takes the Daily Beast and it’s former felon reporter to task pretty hard here.

              2. In fact, the real crime here is Facebook. Some D-level douche trying to doxx a user emailed Facebook, and Facebook emailed the user deets back without even a cursory glance as their own TOS or supposed duty to protect the privacy of their users.

  8. Of course journalists don’t have special rights. But if you want to become a journalist, wikiHow will show you how.

    How to Be a Journalist

    There is even a wikiHow on how to become an expert.

    I’m now an expert and a journalist.

    1. You should apply for Robby’s job…

    2. An expert is anyone from out of town with a briefcase or a laptop. A journalist is anyone who attempts to produce honest journalism.

  9. “cannabis gummies,” “empty bottles of alcohol,” as well as an “unmade bed”

    *crowd gasp*

    1. yeah the “gummies made him an evil man” tack is cute

      1. One would think this would lead to “gossipy fodder” in Elk Horn, not San Francisco. Man, the times, they are a changin’ back.

  10. warrant for phone is 4A issue, no?

  11. Congrats, you managed to write an entire article on actual assaults on the first amendment without referencing Trump’s tweets once. Literally the first time in 3 years.

    1. I am sure it took a remarkable amount of self control.


    What starts with a bunch of assholes claiming “they just want to let grandpa die with dignity” ends with a 17 year old girl being murdered by the state. No, the fact that she was suffering from depression and allegedly requested her death doesn’t make it any better or any less sick.

    And for the record a good number of Nazis were exucuted for their part in something known as the Aktion T4 euthenasia program. They were executed and rightfully so for what the Dutch government does every day.

    1. Allegedly?

      I’m not seeing the issue here. If you agree with legal euthanasia (as I do) then this is a logical endpoint.

      1. So y ou are okay with the state murdering anyone who tells them that is what they want?

        The same people who think the state has no right to kill murders think it is totally okay for it to murder depressed 17 year old girls. What the fuck is wrong with you people.

        1. Neither you nor I nor anyone else on this planet have the moral authority to tell any individual person how that person ought to live their own lives. That is the entire ethos of libertarianism in a nutshell, John. That is why libertarians rail against coercive entities like the state forcing people to live their lives according to some collective desire instead of according to the individuals’ own free choices.

          1. I’m a little uncomfortable with the state helping out here– perhaps at least wait until they’re adults? I don’t see the “libertarian angle” in “letting” my four year old commit suicide after I “give my permission”.

          2. In The Netherlands, kids ages 12 to 16 need permission from a parent to be euthanized and must have consulted a doctor, who agrees that their suffering is unbearable and likely to continue.


            At least the Netherlands recognizes the limits to individual persons deciding for themselves to live their lives according to a collective desire.

          3. As Jeff wants citizens to pay welfare to illegal immigrants and jail bakers for not baking cakes…. you keep pretending Jeff. You’re no more a libertarian than Tony.

        2. A private party gave their consent to another private party to execute a legal contract. The state’s only involvement was the regulatory framework under which the legal contract operated under.

          And yes, there are no liberty boundaries by which one can justifiably constrain a legal adult’s consent. Now, you can make a case whether one is capable of providing consent. Or whether they actually provided consent. But willing and conscious consent should be inviolable.

          1. And yes, there are no liberty boundaries by which one can justifiably constrain a legal adult’s consent

            That’s just it though, isn’t it?

          2. Making a contract to kill someone is not a legal contract, even if the someone to be killed is yourself. The right to life is inalienable, just as the right to liberty. Which is why you cannot make a legally enforceable contract to sell yourself into slavery.

            A society that allows such contracts to be enforced has gone off the rails ethically.

    2. She killed herself, John. She wasn’t murdered by anyone. And evidently 17 is the age of adulthood in the Netherlands.

      It sounds like she was extremely traumatized by her past sexual assault and rape. I’m always sad when I hear about people taking their own lives, but it’s also not my call. They obviously feel a great deal of pain and I can’t in good conscience support a coercive state forcing individuals to live with such obviously unbearable amounts of pain.

      1. >>>It sounds like she was extremely traumatized by her past sexual assault and rape.

        humans wouldn’t counsel her to go ahead and die about that

        1. I wouldn’t counsel her to die. And it sounds like her parents tried to talk her out of it too. But in the end, it is her choice.

          1. here it was King Ferdinand’s choice though?

            1. No, it was the girl’s choice.

          2. I’m sure you’re okay with an anorexic starving themselves to death too? Or would you opt for treatment?

    3. Oh Jesus, Douglas Murray discussed this and I almost didn’t think it was real.

    4. In her 2018 autobiography “Winning or Learning,” Pothoven said she was sexually assaulted at a friend’s party at age 11, then again a year later at another get-together, before being raped by two men on the street at age 14. She has said she wrote her book to help other young people.

      Assisted suicides for children aside, sounds like she had a shit circle of friends and some very loose parenting going on.


    Mexico cracks down on migrants after pressure from Trump. But I was assured by reason this would never happen.

  14. Forget it, Billy; It’s just ‘Frisco!

  15. San Francisco has had Democratic mayors since 1964.

  16. Someone needs to make that judge answer for signing off on it. Do enough people care about constitutional freedoms anymore?

  17. […] the United States, Reason Magazine reports on a US journalist Bryan Carmody. It was revealed that local law enforcement also obtained a […]

  18. […] um unliebige Quellen rauszukriegen; Deutschland findet, 5G könne man nicht genug abhören, in San Francisco stürmt die Polizei die Wohnung eines Journalisten, weil er seine Quellen nicht preisgeben will – Pressefreiheit, […]

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.