Marion County Newspaper Raid Broke Federal Law

Katie Moore/The Kansas City Star

Earlier this month, in a little reported story, the Marion County Record newspaper offices were raided by police, and had their computers, cellphones, and reporting materials seized, allegedly over a dispute with a local businesswoman.

The city’s entire five-officer police force and two sheriff’s deputies took “everything we have,” in the raid, the newspaper’s owner and publisher, Eric Meyer told the Kansas Reflector.

The raid was allegedly due to a complaint by a local restaurant owner named Kari Newell, who the newspaper previously reported on after a source contacted the newspaper and provided evidence that Newell had been convicted of drunken driving but continued to drive after her driver’s license had been suspended.

Newell then took issue with the newspapers reporting on how she kicked out reporters from a recent event at her establishment with US Congressman Jake LaTurner (R-KS) and subsequent research they were conducting.

The Congressman’s staff reportedly asked that the media be allowed to attend the event, but Newell said that she would not allow the media into her establishment. The event went on as scheduled, without the media in attendance, and the congressman offered to give them some time after the event since they were excluded from attending.

What initially went unreported is that the paper was also investigating Marion’s new police chief, Gideon Cody, Meyer told Marisa Kabas of the Substack “The Handbasket”, after the paper received multiple tips alleging that Cody retired from his previous job to avoid “demotion and punishment over alleged sexual misconduct charges”.

“My immediate reaction: This is an attack on all journalists, and we have to respond,” Reflector Editor-in-Chief Sherman Smith said after receiving the news from the Kansas Press Association. Sherman told The Handbasket in an email that night. “My staff and I stopped what we were doing and directed our attention to reporting this story.”

Meyer said the message to his newspaper was clear: “Mind your own business or we’re going to step on you.”

“It’s going to have a chilling effect on us even tackling issues,” Meyer said, as well as “a chilling effect on people giving us information.” Meyer said that in his 20 years at the Milwaukee Journal, 26 years teaching journalism at the University of Illinois and then starting the Marion County Record he had never heard of police raiding a newspaper.

Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, who was also a veteran newswoman, died at her home the following night due to the stress of the raid on the newspaper and her home, the New York Post has reported.

The search warrant, signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, appears to violate federal law that provides protections against searching and seizing materials from journalists. The law requires law enforcement to subpoena materials instead.

“An attack on a newspaper office through an illegal search is not just an infringement on the rights of journalists but an assault on the very foundation of democracy and the public’s right to know,” Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said. “This cannont be allowed to stand.”


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