First Amendment

San Francisco Judge Overturns Illegal Warrant Used to Monitor Journalist's Phone

Superior Court Judge Rochelle East says the warrant violated California law.


A judge has revoked a search warrant that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) illegally obtained to monitor a journalist's phone. With the warrant's recension, officers must also destroy all evidence obtained from its use.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Rochelle East ruled that the warrant violated California's Shield Law, which protects journalists from being held in contempt when they refuse to name a source and excludes related items from being subject to search warrants. East says the cops did not inform her that Carmody was a journalist when they requested the wiretap warrant.

The reporter, Bryan Carmody, drew the fury of the SFPD earlier this year when he disseminated a leaked police report surrounding the February death of Jeff Adachi, the city's former public defender. (The document said that Adachi had been with a woman who wasn't his wife in an apartment filled with "cannabis gummies" and "empty bottles of alcohol," among other embarrassing details. The rather salacious and irrelevant contents raised suspicions that a faction of the SFPD was looking for retribution against Adachi, who was known for relentlessly criticizing the police.)

Subsequently, officers obtained a warrant to monitor Carmody's phone for "subscriber information, call detail records, SMS usage, mobile data usage and cell tower data" from February 22 until February 23, as well as further "remote monitoring" on the phone "day or night." In May, after Carmody declined to provide his source, armed officers barged into his apartment with sledgehammers and raided his apartment, taking the electronic equipment that Carmody uses to run his news operation. The warrant acquired for that search currently remains intact, though it likely also violated California's Shield Law. Carmody's attorney, Tom Burke, is engaged in a legal battle to quash that one, too.

In Thursday's hearing, the police sergeant who obtained the warrant reportedly testified that he was unaware of Carmody's line of work. (It's worth noting that the journalist maintained a police press pass for 16 years.) Police Chief William Scott blamed his staff in May for failing to identify Carmody's profession, eliciting the ire of the San Francisco Police Officers' Association, who said it was Scott that nefariously neglected to note his status as a journalist.