Composite screenshot of ABC 7 Chicago YouTube video (Pictured: Eric Meyer, owner)
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A tiny police department in rural Kansas is defending itself after conducting a controversial raid on the office of a local newspaper as well as the home of the newspaper's owner.
Before 11 a.m. on Friday morning, members of law enforcement executed a search warrant on the office of the Marion County Record in Marion, Kansas, about 60 miles north of Wichita. At about the same time, police raided the home of Eric Meyer, who owns the Record. According to Meyer, all five members of the Marion Police Department as well as two sheriff's deputies participated in the raids.
The search warrant, signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar at 9 a.m. that morning, apparently authorized cops to seize computers, cellphones, digital communications, servers, hard drives, and all documents and records connected with a local resident named Kari Newell.
Kari Newell is a restaurant and coffee shop owner who last week held a public meet-and-greet for Congressman Jake LaTurner (R). Meyer claimed that when he and a reporter from the Record attempted to attend the small event, Newell asked the police chief to kick them out because she did not "want the media" there.
Newell confirmed the story, though she alleged that the Record "has a long-standing reputation for twisting and contorting comments within our community" and feared that the newspaper might "misquote" LaTurner. Newell insisted she "quietly and politely" asked Meyer and his colleague to leave herself.
After the incident at the coffee shop, Meyer said his newspaper received a confidential tip that Newell had once been convicted of a DUI and then drove without a license. Though that information appears to be true, Meyer was concerned that Newell's estranged husband, who has filed for divorce, may have leaked it in the hopes that it might damage Newell's chances of getting a liquor license.
"We thought we were being set up," Meyer said. So his newspaper initially did not run a story about Newell's past, and Meyer informed police about the matter.
But Newell began to suspect that the newspaper somehow learned about her past illegally. "Not only did they have information that was illegal for them to obtain in the manner in which they did, but they sent it out as well," Newell told CNN, later suggesting that Record reporters did so "strictly out of malice and retribution for me asking [Meyer] to exit my establishment."
Newell then made similar allegations during a city council meeting earlier this week, prompting the Record "to set the record straight" by publishing its own version of events on Thursday, the day before the raid on the Record's office and Meyer's home.
The predicates for the search warrant are reportedly "identity theft of Kari Newell" and "unlawful acts concerning computers." After news of the raids broke, many on social media and elsewhere expressed outrage, claiming that the Marion officers and the sheriff's deputies who participated in the raids had likely violated the constitutionally protected rights granted to the press.
"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," said Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association. "This cannot be allowed to stand."
Meyer, who purchased the Record 25 years ago after spending decades as a journalist and a journalism professor, likened the raids to those conducted at the behest of a "repressive" foreign government. "I didn’t think it could happen in America," he said.
Newell claimed she "didn't know" that police intended to execute a search warrant on the Record and Meyer, that she had been out of town when they did, and that she was "flabbergasted" by the situation.
Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, who helped execute the search warrant, did not give a statement immediately afterward, but a Facebook message from the department, posted late Friday night and written in first person, defended the raids.
"As much as I would like to give everyone details on a criminal investigation I cannot," the statement read in part. "I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated."
Rather than sidestep the issues regarding the special protections afforded to newspapers and journalists, the statement addressed them using "generalities." Officers do normally need a subpoena to search a journalist's property, the statement admitted, but in instances in which journalists "themselves are suspects in the offense that is the subject of the search," officers need only a search warrant. The same goes "when there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing," the statement said.
CNN claimed it had "reached out" to Rep. LaTurner for comment, but his office apparently did not respond. The Kansas Reflector reported that LaTurner's staff had been "apologetic" after Newell asked the Record representatives to leave her restaurant.
The outlet also contacted Judge Viar for comment, but it seems she did not respond.
Attorney General Kris Kobach "wasn't available" to comment on the issue, the Kansas Reflector said.
Melissa Underwood, a spokesperson for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, confirmed that the agency had been asked to participate in the investigation of the Record and Meyer: "The Marion Police Department and the Marion County Attorney asked the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to join an investigation into the illegal access and dissemination of confidential criminal justice information."
Meyer appears to believe that his rights as a newspaper owner have been violated in this case. "I don’t want anybody else to have this happen to them," he said. "We’re going to pursue this to the full extent that we’re allowed to by law. ...
"We weren’t going to let a 154-year-old tradition of publishing every week go down just because some cops decided to come in and do something to us," he said.
Police raid local Kansas newspaper office, owners question legalitywww.youtube.com
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Sr. Editor, News
Cortney Weil is a senior editor for Blaze News.