A local newspaper’s office and the house of its owner and publisher were raided by a small central Kansas police department, which has come under fire for taking laptops and smartphones as well as, in the publisher’s view, stressing his 98-year-old mother to the point where she passed away over the weekend.
The Marion Police Department’s actions were denounced by a number of watchdogs for press freedom as a flagrant breach of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of a free press.
Eric Meyer, editor and publisher of The Marion County Record, worked with his staff on Sunday to reassemble articles, advertisements, and other materials for its upcoming edition on Wednesday. He also found time in the afternoon to give information about his mother, Joan, the paper’s co-owner, to a nearby funeral home.
A search warrant connected the raids on Friday morning, which were overseen by Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, to an argument between the newspaper and Kari Newell, the owner of a nearby restaurant.
She claims that the newspaper illegally obtained information on her and her driving history and violated her privacy. She also claims that the newspaper singled her out when she ejected reporter Meyer and Meyer from a restaurant at a political event.
Meyer believes the newspaper’s robust coverage of regional politics and issues also played a part. Meyer perceived the raids as being motivated by Newell’s accusations, which he claimed were unfounded. He claimed that the publication was also looking into Cody’s prior employment with the Kansas City, Missouri, police.
“This is the type of stuff that, you know, that Vladimir Putin does, that Third World dictators do,” Meyer said during an interview in his office. “This is Gestapo tactics from World War II.”
Cody stated on Sunday that the raid was authorised and related to an inquiry.
Around 1,900 people live in a community 150 miles (241 km) southwest of Kansas City that is tucked away among rolling prairie hills, and because of the raids, the small weekly newspaper is the most recent to find itself in the spotlight and presumably targeted for its reporting.
The editor of a weekly newspaper in New Hampshire last year accused the state attorney general’s office of overreaching after she was detained for allegedly publishing political advertisements for municipal elections without properly labelling them as such.
Robert Telles, a former Democratic elected official in Las Vegas, is set to go on trial in November for allegedly killing reporter Jeff German of the Las Vegas Review-Journal after German published articles criticising Telles and his managing style.
According to the report, Meyer said that on Friday, a Record reporter hurt her finger when Cody yanked her mobile from her hand.
Cody could see officers reading the reporter’s rights on the newspaper’s CCTV footage, but she wasn’t held or arrested at the time. The video shows that although the search took more than 90 minutes, newspaper staffers were hurried out of the building.
Meyer claimed that police invaded his home at the same time, confiscating computers, his phone, and the internet router.
But Newell was getting death threats from as far afield, according to Meyer, who was handling messages from reporters and editors in London and reviewing video from the newsroom’s security camera. According to her, the Record participates in “tabloid trash reporting” and is attempting to keep her quiet.
“I fully believe that the intent was to do harm and merely tarnish my reputation, and I think if had it been left at that, I don’t think that it would have blown up as big as it was,” Newell said in a telephone interview.
At the request of other attendees who were furious with the “toxic” newspaper, Newell claimed she kicked Meyer and the Record reporter out of the celebration for Republican U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner. One business on the main drag of the town has a hand-made “Support Marion PD” sign on it.
The Marion Police Department featured the event on its Facebook page, the police chief and other authorities were there and honoured at the reception.
Phone messages left Sunday at LaTurner’s Washington and district offices requesting comment were not immediately returned by his office.
In light of a 2008 drunken driving conviction and previous traffic infractions, Newell said she thinks the newspaper broke the law in order to obtain her personal information.
The newspaper retorted that it had obtained the material voluntarily, which it had confirmed by consulting open web records. It ultimately opted against publishing an article since it wasn’t certain the source had obtained it legitimately. However, an article about the municipal council meeting was published in which Newell acknowledged having been convicted of DUI and driving despite having her licence suspended.
Newell is named as the victim of alleged crimes by the newspaper in a two-page search warrant that was approved by the local judge. The district court issued a signed statement stating that no such affidavit was on file in response to the newspaper’s request for a copy of the probable cause affidavit needed by law to grant a search warrant, the Record reported.
The police chief, Cody, defended the raid on Sunday, telling The Associated Press in an email that although federal law typically only permits a search warrant and not a subpoena, there is an exception “when there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing.”
Cody withheld specifics regarding the nature of the alleged wrongdoing.
After 24 years with the Kansas City police, Cody was appointed police chief of Marion in late April. When asked whether officers had submitted a probable cause affidavit for the search warrant, Cody remained silent. He also declined to respond to inquiries about the alleged victimisation of Newell by the police.
Press freedom and civil rights organisations claimed that the judge who approved the search warrant, the local prosecutor’s office, and the police overstepped their legal bounds.
“It seems like one of the most aggressive police raids of a news organization or entity in quite some time,” said Sharon Brett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, adding that it seemed “quite an alarming abuse of authority.”
Seth Stern, director of advocacy for Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in a statement that the raid appeared to have violated federal law, the First Amendment, “and basic human decency.”
“The anti-press rhetoric that’s become so pervasive in this country has become more than just talk and is creating a dangerous environment for journalists trying to do their jobs,” Stern said.
Meyer claimed that news outlets and press freedom organisations have besieged him with offers of assistance. However, he claimed that in order for him and his team to finish their upcoming version, they would need additional hours in the day.
He and Newell are both thinking of filing legal claims, Newell against the newspaper and Meyer against the government agents who orchestrated the raid.
Newell responded to claims that the raid violated First Amendment rights by violating her privacy rights, saying that her rights are “just as important as anybody else’s.”