Kansas newspaper police raid raises concerns over press freedoms

Kansas newspaper police raid raises concerns over press freedoms

MARION, Kan. (NewsNation) — The allegedly unjustified police raid of a small-town Kansas newspaper on Friday is raising concerns over press freedoms and government overreach.

As the Marion County Record gears up to publish its first issue since the Marion Police Department raided the newsroom last week, the paper’s lawyers are calling into question what they call the illegal search and seizure.

With a search warrant alleging the newspaper had a document they weren’t supposed to have, local police seized computers, cellphones and servers from the Marion County Record newsroom.

Police also raided Eric Meyer’s home — the paper’s owner and editor — and his 98-year-old mother’s home — his longtime co-owner. She died the day after the raid due to the stress from the search in her home, Meyer said.

“She wasn’t somebody who was that fragile. She was a fighter who felt frustrated, and she would be so pleased by the outpouring of support the newspaper received,” Meyer said.

The paper’s lawyers said this was an illegal search and seizure, and that the law recognizes a journalist’s privilege for any information gathered by a confidant source — which the paper says is how this all started.

But police said there’s an exception to that rule: When there is reason to believe a journalist is taking part in “the underlying wrongdoing.”

Meyer explained that the search warrant alleged that the newspaper had committed identity theft and improper use of a computer.

But Meyer said this all began when a source sent the paper a document that he says shows how a local restaurant owner has allegedly been driving without a valid license for years due to an alleged DUI. The paper had decided not to write a story about it, and instead reported the information to law enforcement.

Days later, police showed up in the newsroom.

In a statement, the Marion Police Department wrote, “It is true that in most cases, it requires police to use subpoenas rather than search warrants to search the premises of journalists unless they, themselves, are suspects in the offense that is the subject of the search.”

Legal experts say parts of journalism are protected under the law.

“Very generally, the law says you can take an object, a document and report on it even if you know that the person is giving it to you maybe got it through questionable methods as long you did not direct that person to obtain the object or document that way,” Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Marymount University law professor, said.

NewsNation’s efforts to reach the local restaurant owners and the coroner were not successful, but Meyer said he thinks the record’s coverage of local politics and the fact that the paper was looking into the past of the town’s new police chief, Gideon Cody, is why they actually were raided.

The newspaper’s attorney has demanded the police department not review any of the confiscated information.

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