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Video: Police raid newspaper, owner’s home; seize phones, computers; First Amendment questions go unanswered

A police car. (Dreamstime/TNS)
August 14, 2023

The Marion Police Department in Kansas is facing backlash over alleged First Amendment violations for raiding a small newspaper’s office and its owner’s home on Friday, as well as seizing the newspaper’s cell phones and computers.

ABC News reported that Friday’s search warrant and subsequent raid by the Marion Police Department stemmed from an issue between the Marion County Record and Kari Newell, a local restaurant owner.

Newell claims the newspaper illegally obtained information about her driving record after she had Eric Meyer, co-owner of Marion County Record, and a news reporter kicked out of a local restaurant during a political event.

Meyer has denied Newell’s accusations and claimed that the newspaper’s coverage of local issues and politics might have provided additional motivation for the police raid, especially since the newspaper was investigating the police chief’s prior work with the Kansas City Police.

A spokesperson for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation sent American Military News the following statement on the situation:

The Marion Police Department and the Marion County Attorney asked the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) to join an investigation into allegations of illegal access and dissemination of confidential criminal justice information. The KBI assigned an agent to this case last Tuesday, and has been assisting since that time.  The KBI agent did not apply for the search warrants in question, and he was not present when the warrants were served.

Director Mattivi believes very strongly that freedom of the press is a vanguard of American democracy. Without free speech and a free press, our society is not likely to see appropriate accountability of public officials. But another principle of our free society is equal application of the law. The KBI is entrusted to investigate credible allegations of illegal activity without fear or favor. In order to investigate and gather facts, the KBI commonly executes search warrants on police departments, sheriff’s offices, and at city, county and state offices. We have investigated those who work at schools, churches and at all levels of public service. No one is above the law, whether a public official or a representative of the media.

In 2008, Newell received a drunk driving conviction, as well as other driving violations. Newell accused the newspaper of illegally accessing information that she claimed should have only been available to insurance agencies, law enforcement and private investigators.

“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,” she said.

While the Marion County Record decided not to run a story on the information it obtained from an unidentified source, which Meyer claims was unsolicited, the newspaper ran a city council meeting story featuring confirmation by Newell that she had continued driving after her DUI conviction, despite having her license suspended.

“This is the type of stuff that, you know, that Vladimir Putin does, that Third World dictators do,” Meyer said during a weekend interview. “This is Gestapo tactics from World War II.”

ABC News reported that the co-owner’s 98-year-old mother – who was present at the time of the raid – passed away less than a day later, allegedly due to the stress caused by the police.

“It’s everything you’ve heard of a third-world. It really is like we’re living in Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany,” Meyer said. “How dare they take the last day of her life and maker her filled with fear and anger.”

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In response to Friday’s events, the Freedom of the Press Foundation released a statement calling out the police department’s raid on the Marion County Record.

“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,” Seth Stern, advocacy director for Freedom of the Press Foundation, said. “Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.”

Despite receiving intense criticism from the press, the police chief explained that while federal law usually protects the media from search and seizure without a subpoena, an exception occurs “when there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing.”

Meyer acknowledged that law enforcement officials provided him with a copy of the search warrant following the search of his newspaper and home; however, he claims that law enforcement did not provide an explanation regarding why the newspaper was raided, CNN reported.

According to Meyer, despite trying to access a probably cause affidavit that would provide reasoning behind the search warrant, the judge indicated that she did not have a probably cause warrant in her office.

“What I want is, I don’t want anybody else to have this happen to them,” Meyer said. “We’re going to pursue this to the full extent that we’re allowed to by law and hopefully, that may result in some changes in personnel have been involved in this.”