Police raided the Marion County Record Friday in a move its publisher worries will have a "chilling effect" on the free press, the Kansas Reflector reported. Law enforcement seized cell phones, computers, and other materials from the Kansas newspaper's office and the publisher's residence.
The move came after the newspaper's confrontation with a local restaurateur, Kari Newell. She had asked reporters to leave during a meeting with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, and the newspaper later uncovered information about Newell's drunk driving conviction that resulted in her losing her driver's license.
The newspaper's publisher and owner, Eric Meyer, believes the raid was in response to sensitive documents the newspaper received from a source. However, police were not forthright with exactly what initiated such a response from them. .
"Mind your own business or we’re going to step on you," is the message he received. Two sheriff's deputies and five police officers simultaneously descended on the newspaper and Meyer's home and took "everything we have," according to Meyer. This left the staff as they were set to go to press Tuesday night with the paper's latest edition.
Meyer, who is a seasoned professional, said he has never seen anything like this in his career. The publisher has spent 20 years at the Milwaukee Journal and 26 years at the University of Illinois as a journalism professor.
"It’s going to have a chilling effect on us even tackling issues," Meyer said. He further warned that there would be a "chilling effect on people giving us information" after the raid as well.
Emily Bradbury, executive director at the Kansas Press Association, similarly noted how out of the ordinary law enforcement's actions were. "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," Bradbury asserted.
"This cannot be allowed to stand," she added. However, one likely scenario about what possibly initiated the raid is more disturbing.
Meyer had reported on Newell's actions at the restaurant, prompting her to make belligerent remarks regarding the paper on her social media. A confidential informant reached out to the publication with evidence of Newell's previous offenses.
This is significant as her application for a liquor license could be turned down based on a conviction for driving under the influence. Meyer contacted police on the suspicion that the leak was from Newell's husband, who had already filed for divorce.
"We thought we were being set up," Meyer explained. After police tipped off Newell, she falsely accused the newspaper of illegally soliciting and publishing confidential information at a city council meeting.
After that, the newspaper published another article to clear the air. The next day, police executed a search warrant that permitted law enforcement to take just about anything electronic or pertaining to Newell's case, including grabbing the cell phone from a reporter's hand.
A firestorm erupted in the press after news of the raid, prompting officials to reverse course Wednesday and promise all items would be returned. CNN reported. Unfortunately, Meyer's mother and Marion County Record co-owner Joan Meyer died the day after the raid in part due to the stress of it all, according to her son.
This search and seizure of electronics and other records from a newspaper office and a private home is unconscionable. Even if all items are returned, this was a grave injustice and set a frightening precedent for aggrieved parties to use law enforcement for revenge against the press.