A small police department in central Kansas is facing backlash after conducting raids on a local newspaper’s offices and the home of its publisher. Multiple press freedom watchdogs have deemed this move a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protection of a free press. According to reports from the Marion County Record, police raided the newspaper’s office on Friday, confiscating computers, phones, and the file server, as well as personal cellphones of staff members. One reporter stated that her finger was injured during a struggle over her cellphone with Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody. In addition to the office raid, the police also conducted a raid on the home of Eric Meyer, the newspaper’s publisher and co-owner, seizing computers, his cellphone, and the internet router. Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, who lived in the home, collapsed and died the following day, with Meyer attributing her death to the stress caused by the raid.
The raid is believed to have been prompted by a story published by the newspaper about a local restaurant owner named Kari Newell. Newell had asked the police to remove Meyer and a newspaper reporter from her establishment while they were covering a public reception for U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner. In response, Newell accused the newspaper of using illegal means to obtain information about her drunk driving conviction. The newspaper denied these accusations, stating that the information was received unsolicited and verified through public online records. While the newspaper decided against publishing a story about Newell’s DUI, they did report on the city council meeting where Newell confirmed the conviction herself.
A search warrant, signed by a local judge, listed Newell as the victim of alleged crimes by the newspaper. When the newspaper requested a copy of the probable cause affidavit required by law to issue a search warrant, the district court stated that no such affidavit was on file. Newell declined to comment on the matter.
Police Chief Cody defended the raid, claiming that federal law provides an exception to the requirement for a subpoena when there is reason to believe that a journalist is involved in illegal activity. However, he did not provide specific details about the alleged wrongdoing. Cody did not respond to questions regarding whether a probable cause affidavit was filed for the search warrant or how police believed Newell was victimized.
Meyer has stated that the newspaper intends to sue the police department and possibly others, arguing that the raid violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press. Press freedom and civil rights organizations have criticized the police, the local prosecutor’s office, and the judge who approved the search warrant for exceeding their authority. Sharon Brett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, described the raid as one of the most aggressive actions taken against a news organization in recent memory, while Seth Stern, director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, condemned it as a violation of federal law, the First Amendment, and basic human decency.
In summary, the raid on the local newspaper’s offices and the home of its publisher in Kansas has sparked outrage and accusations of violating press freedom. The newspaper believes that the raid was retaliation for their coverage of a local restaurant owner, while the police chief defended the action based on suspicion of illegal activity involving journalists. Press freedom and civil rights organizations have criticized the raid as an abuse of authority and an infringement on the First Amendment. The newspaper plans to take legal action against the police department and others involved.