Local police in Kansas are under scrutiny after they raided the office of the “Marion County Record” in Marion last week. Police may have illegally seized material they sought in an investigation. Marion is about 60 miles north of Wichita.
The police actions included a separate raid on the home of 98-year-old co-owner Joan Meyer. She collapsed and died less than 24 hours later from “shock and grief” that caused her to lose sleep and not eat, the newspaper reported, says her son and newspaper publisher Eric Myer. The paper was investigating the town’s police chief.
Marion County Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar signed the search warrant, which alleged violations of identity theft and “unlawful acts concerning computers,” CNN reported. Meyer, co-owner and publisher of the paper founded more than 150 years ago, reportedly said four Marion police officers and three sheriff’s deputies seized personal cellphones, computers and other materials at his home and the newspaper office, including some unrelated equipment needed to publish.
“Our first priority is to be able to publish next week,” Meyer said. “But we also want to make sure no other news organization is ever exposed to the Gestapo tactics we witnessed today.”
Reporter Deb Gruver wrote in a post on Facebook she had filed a report with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation that accused Police Chief Gideon Cody of reinjuring a previously dislocated finger after he allegedly “forcibly yanked” her cellphone from her hand. “I thought I lived in the United States,” she said.
Friday’s raids have been widely condemned by press freedom watchdogs as a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protection for a free press. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly called the raids “concerning.” An attorney for the newspaper deemed the searches and seizures illegal and said the police department’s action “offends the constitutional protections the founding fathers gave the free press.” The Society of Professional Journalists pledged $20,000 toward the newspaper’s legal defense.
Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, called the move a dangerous attack on press freedom in the United States. “There’s a lot of healthy tension between the government and newspapers, but this?” she told “The New York Times.” “This is not right, this is wrong, this cannot be allowed to stand.”
Seth Stern, director of advocacy for Freedom of the Press Foundation, told CNN that the raid appears to have violated federal law and is “the latest example of American law enforcement officers treating the press in a manner previously associated with authoritarian regimes.”
“Based on the reporting so far, the police raid of the Marion County Record on Friday appears to have violated federal law, the First Amendment and basic human decency,” he said. “Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.”
Newspaper publisher and co-owner Eric Meyer has been reporting on corruption in the small town and, according to the Associated Press, “He believes the newspaper’s dogged coverage of local politics and Police Chief Gideon Cody’s record are the main reason for the raids. The Record was in the midst of digging into the newly hired chief’s past as a Kansas City, Missouri, police captain when the raids were carried out, Meyer said, although the newspaper hasn’t yet published a story.”
The Kansas state police are being criticized for appearing to defend the raids, including the one that resulted in the death.
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice