NEW YORK—PEN America has joined a coalition of media and press freedom organizations in filing an amicus letter in support of San Francisco journalist Bryan Carmody, advocating for the return of his improperly seized newsgathering materials in apparent violation of California law.

Filed in San Francisco County Superior Court before Judge Samuel Feng, the amicus letter was signed by 60 media organizations in support of Carmody’s motion to “quash a search warrant and for the return of improperly seized newsgathering materials.”

The amicus letter expresses the signatory organizations’ concern regarding the seizure of Carmody’s work and its effect on his ability to report. The letter lays out several possible ways in which the seizure may have violated the law, including the federal Privacy Protection Act of 1980, the California Constitution and Penal Code’s “shield law,” which protects work product and documentary material from search warrants, as well as the Department of Justice’s news media guidelines, which aim to protect journalists from federal search warrants.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Police Department conducted a mass seizure of documentary materials and newsgathering equipment of Carmody’s related to its investigation into how he obtained a police report and other materials on the death of local San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi. The Police Department originally sought Carmody’s cooperation in identifying his confidential source for a police report, which he obtained from a private source and used to inform a news pitch he made in February 2019 about Adachi’s death.

On May 10, weeks after Carmody declined to identify his confidential source for the report, the Police Department executed search warrants against Carmody’s home and office to obtain the police report and identify Carmody’s confidential source. In the wake of intense scrutiny and legal concern from the press freedom community, Police Chief Scott admitted the search likely violated California law by failing to identify Carmody as a journalist.

“Press freedom is only as strong as the practice of protecting it,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs. “The Court has an opportunity here to affirm the media’s right to gather news by granting the motion before it. The unconstitutional seizure of Mr. Carmody’s investigative materials sends a chilling message to journalists, casting a long shadow over their ability to inquire into news stories, research the facts of their reporting, and bring news to our communities. We hope the Court agrees these fundamental press freedoms merit protection.”

The full text of the amicus can be found here.

PEN America works with communities and local journalists across the country to elevate why local news matters. Learn more about our recent national campaign to bring World Press Freedom Day to the United States, amid rising threats to local journalists and newsrooms. Learn more about our additional work providing resources for journalists to combat online harassment here, including tools for employers and law enforcement to employ to support journalists.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Suzanne Trimel, Media Consultant, [email protected]