Police raid newspaper office, home of elderly person over false allegations - was it to protect the chief? Court weighs in.

Police raid by is licensed under
Marion County, KS – On August 11th, Marion Police conducted a raid on the Marion County Record newspaper offices as well as the home of the 98-year-old co-owner Joan Meyer.  They seized computers, personal cell phones and a router. Sadly, the elderly woman died the next day.

The raid was conducted after a local restauranteur claimed that the paper invaded her privacy and illegally accessed information about her and her driving record. Kari Newell also alleged that the paper “targeted” her after she threw co-owner Eric Meyer and a reporter from her restaurant.

The paper claims that they ran a public records search, acting on a tip. They ran a search through the Kansas Department of Revenue looking for information regarding a 2008 drunk driving conviction.

Marion Police Chief, Gideon Cody, says that by downloading the document from a public access domain indicated that the paper was “either impersonating the victim or lying about the reasons why the record was being sought,” according to a report by the Associated Press.

The paper she owned with her son reported that she was “undergoing severe stress and emotional distress in the hours before her death.”

In light of her death and the possible violation of First Amendment rights, Cody defended the raid, saying that once all the evidence was made known, "the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated."

"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,” Chief Cody told CBS News.

The paper claimed it had done nothing wrong and county prosecutors seemed to agree with them, ordering the police department to return all items seized during the raid. They concluded that there was not enough evidence to justify the police chief’s actions. 

And the prosecutors were not the only ones that had something to say to Cody.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent him a letter, saying in part, "Your department's seizure of this equipment has substantially interfered with the Record's First Amendment-protected newsgathering in this instance, and the department's actions risk chilling the free flow of information in the public interest more broadly, including by dissuading sources from speaking to the Record and other Kansas news media in the future."

Seth Stern, advocacy director of the Freedom of Press Foundation, said that the raid appears to have violated federal law.

"This looks like the latest example of American law enforcement officers treating the press in a manner previously associated with authoritarian regimes," Stern said Friday.

"The anti-press rhetoric that's become so pervasive in this country has become more than just talk and is creating a dangerous environment for journalists trying to do their jobs."

Meanwhile, Eric Meyer revealed that his paper had been looking into allegations of sexual misconduct by Chief Cody. He struggles to believe that those investigations had nothing to do with the raid.

“The allegations — including the identities of who made the allegations — were on one of the computers that got seized," Meyer said. "I may be paranoid that this has anything to do with it, but when people come and seize your computer, you tend to be a little paranoid.”
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