Police in Marion, Kansas, did not follow the guidelines set out in the search warrant during a raid at the local newspaper last month, the paper’s attorney said Tuesday.
The search warrant Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody had submitted said officers were looking for evidence that a reporter had unlawfully accessed the driving history of local restaurant owner Kari Newell.
Bernie Rhodes, the attorney representing the paper, said officers acted outside of the warrant by not conducting adequate preliminary searches on devices before confiscating them, which the warrant application required, and using broad search terms on one computer to justify its confiscation.
The search warrant application for the Marion County Record said police were to “conduct a preview search of all located digital communications devices and digital storage media to exclude from seizure items which have not been involved in the identity theft.” That means the warrant required officers to first do a simple search on each device before confiscating it to see if it could contain information about the restaurant owner.
During the Aug. 11 raid, police conducted a preliminary search on only one computer, which took one hour and 20 minutes. According to Rhodes, police searched for passwords as well as terms including “vehicle” and “Kansas,” which returned the largest number of hits. They also searched “Kari” but not “Newell,” Rhodes said.
In addition to that computer, law enforcement also seized multiple phones, computer towers and an external drive from the paper.
Rhodes said police took several devices without performing a preview search on them.
“This by definition is unreasonable,” said Rhodes, who has also represented The Star.
He went on to say that the “sham nature” of the search was a pretense designed to intimidate the local newspaper.
Cody did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Five days after the raid, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey withdrew the search warrant because “insufficient evidence” existed to establish a “legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.” Officials released the seized items to a forensic examiner to review.
The reporter who searched for Newell’s driver’s license information accessed data that the Kansas Department of Revenue says is open to the public.
Law enforcement had saved the data from the preview search on the one confiscated computer onto an external hard drive. The 8th Judicial District released an inventory list that included the drive, but it was not on the list of items returned to the paper. Rhodes raised questions about the discrepancy and was present when authorities destroyed the drive with a hammer last Wednesday.
Last week, a reporter filed a federal lawsuit alleging Cody violated her First and Fourth amendment rights when officers seized items from her. Rhodes has said the newspaper is “exploring all options” in filing a lawsuit, which could include a wrongful death claim. A day after the raid, the Record’s co-owner Joan Meyer died from sudden cardiac arrest.
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