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San Francisco police seize multiple phone records of independent journalist Bryan Carmody

June 11, 2019

In March and April 2019, San Francisco police seized phone records for freelance journalist Bryan Carmody as part of an investigation into one of Carmody’s confidential sources.

On May 31, the San Francisco Police Department formally notified Carmody that it had obtained a warrant to seize his mobile phone records. In a letter to Carmody, SFPD Sgt. Joseph Obidi wrote: “Mr. Carmody is being investigated as a co-conspirator in the theft of the San Francisco Police report, involving the death investigation of Jeff Adachi.”

Adachi, the San Francisco Public Defender, died unexpectedly on Feb. 22. Shortly after, Carmody obtained a copy of an SFPD report into Adachi’s death. The police report included salacious details about Adachi’s drug use and possible extramarital affair, and Carmody used the leaked report as the centerpiece of a story about Adachi’s death. Carmody sold his story on Adachi’s death to local TV news stations, who ran segments about the police report.

Sgt. Obidi’s May 31 letter to Carmody stated that the SFPD had executed a search warrant on March 1 to compel Verizon to turn over Carmody’s mobile phone records, including “subscriber information, call detail records, SMS usage, mobile data usage, cell tower data,” for the period of time between 8:33 p.m. on Feb. 22 and 10:44 p.m. on Feb. 23.

On June 1, Carmody received two more letters from Sgt. Obidi, notifying him that police had executed further warrants on March 13 and April 16 for his mobile phone records.

The March 13 warrant, like the earlier one executed on March 1, requested Verizon hand over Carmody’s mobile phone records for the same time period—between 8:33 p.m. on Feb. 22 and 10:44 p.m. on Feb. 23.

The April 16 warrant was served on both Verizon and AT&T and requested that the two carriers hand over mobile phone records for three different phone numbers for the time period between 1:13 p.m. on April 12 and 11:59 p.m. on April 15.

In addition to the warrants to seize Carmody’s mobile phone records, the SFPD obtained search warrants for Carmody’s home and office. On May 10, SFPD officers raided Carmody’s home and office and the reporter’s notebooks, computers, phones, and cameras.

— The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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