0812 Today in History
0812 Today in History
Police in a central Kansas town raided the local newspaper’s office Friday and seized computers and employees’ personal cellphones – an action that advocates say violates federal laws protecting the media.
Law enforcement officers with the Marion (Kan.) Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office on Friday took the Marion County Record’s computer file server, other computers and phones, along with other equipment, the Record reported.
A search warrant, posted online by non-profit news site the Kansas Reflector, was signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar. The search warrant was approved by the judge citing probable cause that violations related to identity theft and unlawful acts concerning computers were committed. Police were approved to search for devices that were used to access the Kansas Department of Revenue records website and documents and records pertaining to Kari Newell.
Newell is a Marion restaurant owner who during a city council meeting on Aug. 7 accused the Record of illegally obtaining information about her, the newspaper reported.
Chief: Police and court ‘will be vindicated’ in Marion, Kansas raid
The federal Privacy Protection Act protects against most searches of journalists and newsrooms by law enforcement, requiring police usually to issue subpoenas. “Legal experts contacted by the Record termed the raid unheard of in America and reminiscent of what occurs in totalitarian regimes and the Third World,” the Record reported.
But Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody said, in an email exchange with USA TODAY, that “speaking in generalities” the Privacy Protection Act allows for a search warrant “when there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing.”
“I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated,” Cody said. “I appreciate all the assistance from all the State and Local investigators along with the entire judicial process thus far.”
Eric Meyer, publisher and owner of the Record, told the Reflector – and wrote on the Record’s own news site – that a source contacted the Record, and a member of the city council, with information that Newell “did not have a valid driver’s license and (law enforcement) had ignored what the source said were repeated violation of driving laws by Newell.”
The Record verified the information using a public website, but decided not to publish it, Meyer reported. After consulting an attorney, Meyer told Cody and Sheriff Jeff Soyez about the information the source provided, he wrote.
Meyer reported that the information had been leaked to the Record “as part of legal sparring between Newell and her estranged husband,” as part of the couple’s divorce proceedings.
“We thought we were being set up,” Meyer told the Reflector.
Co-owner of Marion County Record dies Saturday, newspaper reports
After Newell made public comments at the city council meeting alleging the Record had illegally gotten and shared sensitive documents, the Record published a story Thursday detailing its actions and decrying Newell’s accusations as false.
Friday morning, police searched the newspaper office and Meyer’s home, where he and his mother, Joan Meyer, a co-owner of the newspaper, lived. Police took two computers and an Alexa smart speaker Mrs. Meyer used to stream TV shows and get help, he wrote.
Then, Saturday afternoon, his mother, 98, collapsed and died at her home; he described her as “otherwise in good health for her age.”
“She had not been able to eat after police showed up at the door of her home Friday with a search warrant in hand,” Eric Meyer wrote in a story posted Saturday. “Neither was she able to sleep Friday night.”
Meyer, a retired journalism professor of journalism at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has been the longtime editor and publisher of the Marion County Record, Hillsboro Star-Journal and Peabody Gazette-Bulletin. He and his mother are co-owners of Hoch Publishing, which owns the three outlets. His late father, Bill Meyer, was the longtime journalist in Marion and is in the Kansas Press Association Hall of Fame.
Kansas newspaper staff endured ‘Gestapo tactics,’ publisher says
Police also searched the home of vice mayor Ruth Herbel, reported the Record, which is expected to file a federal suit against the city and those involved in the search.
“Our first priority is to be able to publish next week,” Meyer said in the Friday story, “but we also want to make sure no other news organization is ever exposed to the Gestapo tactics we witnessed today. We will be seeking the maximum sanctions possible under the law.”
Other local newspapers are helping the Record so it can publish this week and press associations are prepared to support the Record, Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, told USA TODAY. “This has never happened in Kansas, so this has a chilling effect and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that this kind of practice is not encouraged and people are held accountable,” she said.
The association has heard from several First Amendment organizations “that have said, ‘How can we help you?'” she said. “If you want to unite journalists, this is the way to do it.”
The National Newspaper Association called on authorities to return any property seized so “the newspaper can proceed with its work,” said John Galer, the chairperson of the National Newspaper Association, in a post on Facebook and in a statement on the association site.
“Newsroom raids in this country receded into history 50 years ago. Today, law enforcement agencies by and large understand that gathering information from newsrooms is a last resort and then done only with subpoenas that protect the rights of all involved,” Galer said. “For a newspaper to be intimidated by an unannounced search and seizure is unthinkable in an America that respects its First Amendment rights.”
Contributing: Jason Alatidd, Topeka Capital-Journal.
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