What Happened to a Small Newspaper in Kansas Should Never Happen in America

AP Photo/John Hanna

Marion, Kan., is a town about 60 miles north of Wichita. It’s a town like thousands of other towns in the U.S. heartland. It even sports a weekly newspaper, the Marion County Record.

“This is the type of stuff that, you know, that Vladimir Putin does, that Third World dictators do,” the Marion County Record‘s editor and publisher Eric Meyer said during an interview in his office. “This is Gestapo tactics from World War II.”

Meyer was reacting to a police raid involving the entire Marion police department — all five officers — who seized computers and other records from the newspaper’s offices in connection with “an identity theft investigation,” according to Police Chief Gideon Cody. As it turns out, it was the raw exercise of police power that resulted in this blatant violation of the Constitution.

The pretense for the raid was the investigation of a restaurant owner who wanted to procure a liquor license from the state. But Kari Newell had a skeleton in her closet. She had been convicted in 2008 of drunken driving. In Kansas, anyone with a felony conviction for drunken driving was prevented from getting a liquor license.

The Record somehow got a hold of the information and was prepared to publish it — if it could be ascertained that the information was not obtained by illicit means. After double-checking, the Record was prepared to publish. And that’s when Chief Cody got a judge to sign off on a search warrant.

It should be noted at this point that the newspaper was also investigating Cody after receiving tips that he had left his previous job in Kansas City, Mo., to avoid repercussions for alleged sexual misconduct charges, Meyer said in an interview published Saturday on the Handbasket, a newsletter by journalist Marisa Kabas.

The plot thickens.

The computers and records taken during the search warrant also just happened to contain the names of sources who informed the newspaper about Cody’s sexual misconduct charge. I’m sure that was just a coincidence.

But the Record did not expose Newell’s DUI information. In fact, it was Newell herself who first mentioned the DUI during a city council hearing where she accused a reporter of sharing the DUI information with one of the council members, Ruth Herbel.

As it turns out, the DUI information was sent to both the Record reporter and Herbel. When asked by a Record reporter in an interview after the council meeting, Newell suggested it was her ex-husband who shared the DUI information.

But despite the convoluted story surrounding the raid, the stark fact is that it should never have occurred.

The exact justification for the search warrant isn’t known because the judge hasn’t released the affidavit supporting it. The affidavit would have been filed by Marion County officials.

Washington Post:

On Sunday, more than 30 news organizations and press groups, including The Washington Post, wrote an open letter to Marion Police Chief Cody condemning the action. “Newsroom searches and seizures are among the most intrusive actions law enforcement can take with respect to the free press, and the most potentially suppressive of free speech by the press and the public,” wrote the group, headed by the nonprofit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Emily Bradbury, the executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said her group would support the Record if it challenged local officials in court. “No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, everyone should be concerned” about “government overreach and trying to silence investigative work.”

Sadly, Eric Meyer’s mother Joan, who co-owned the paper with her son, was apparently so traumatized by the raid that less than 24 hours later, the 98-year-old woman, who had previously been in good health for her age, died.

The Telegraph:

According to the paper, Mrs Meyer was “stressed beyond her limits” when police descended on her home.

She watched in tears as the officers, armed with a search warrant, took away her computer, internet router and Alexa smart speaker.

Mr Meyer, 69, said his mother, who was previously in good health for her age, was unable to eat or sleep after the raid.

“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.”

Just as it was intended, I’m sure.


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