TAn entire five-man police department in a small town in Kansas raided the office of a local newspaper and its publisher’s home, confiscated computers, cell phones and other reporting material, and effectively ceased publication.
The 98-year-old co-owner of the weekly – apparently overwhelmed by the incident – collapsed and died the following day, the newspaper said Marion County record.
Publisher Eric Meyer said the Aug. 11 police raid on Marion cost “everything we have.”
The incident is likely to have a “chilling effect” on the newspaper’s ability to publish publications and for the public to speak to its reporters, he said Kansas reflector.
“Based on previous reports, the police raid on the Marion County Record on Friday appears to have violated federal law, the First Amendment, and basic human decency,” he said opinion by Seth Stern, Advocacy Director for the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
“Everyone involved should be ashamed,” he added.
The raid followed a series of stories about a restaurant owner throwing reporters out of a meeting with Republican US Rep. Jake LaTurner. A source had contacted the newspaper about the restaurant owner’s drunk driving, and reporters attempted to verify the information against government records. In the end, Mr. Meyer decided against publication.
But restaurant owner KarI Newell falsely claimed during a city council meeting that the newspaper illegally obtained confidential documents about her, prompting the newspaper to run a story clarifying the facts.
The newspaper was too actively investigating Gideon CodyMarion’s police chief after he was accused of retiring from a previous job to avoid punishment over allegations of sexual misconduct.
The Independent has reached out to Mr Cody and Marion Police for comment.
A warrant for the raid — carried out by the entire police department and the sheriff’s deputies — was signed by Marion County Circuit Judge Laura Viar.
The two-page warrant said officers were allowed to confiscate phones, software, items containing passwords, and all correspondence and documents “related to Kari Newell.”
Chief Cody also reportedly dislocated a reporter’s finger after she snatched the phone from her hand during the raid.
Officers also reportedly photographed personal financial statements and confiscated personal belongings – including a smart speaker that the 98-year-old co-owner of the newspaper, Joan Meyer, used to ask for help.
“These are Hitler tactics and something must be done,” Ms. Meyer said said.
The following day, the Marion County record reported that she was “stressed beyond her limits and overcome with hours of shock and grief” following the raid on the newspaper’s office and home.
“Joan Meyer, otherwise in good health for her age, collapsed on Saturday afternoon and died at her home,” the newspaper reported. “She was unable to eat after police showed up at the door of her home on Friday with a search warrant in hand. She couldn’t sleep on Friday night either.”
Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said the incident was unprecedented in the state.
“An attack on a newspaper office through an illegal search is not only a violation of journalists’ rights, but an attack on the foundations of democracy and the public’s right to information,” she said in a statement. “It can’t stay like this.”
The Radio Television Digital News Association is also demanding an explanation from the police.
Organization that promotes freedom of expression PEN America said that such “egregious attempts to interfere with news coverage cannot go unchecked in a democracy” and that the seizure of the newspaper’s equipment “almost certainly violates federal law and jeopardizes the newspaper’s ability to break the news.” .
In the record’S own reporting of the incident, Mr. Meyer condemned what he called the police’s “Gestapo tactics” of suppressing dissent.
“We will seek the widest sanctions possible by law,” he added.
The record is expected to file a federal lawsuit.
The Press Freedom Tracker recorded at least 55 incidents involving journalists’ activities protected by the First Amendment in the last year.
Earlier this year, officers in Oklahoma were taped dreaming of killing journalists. Two journalists were in North Carolina recently found guilty of trespassing for covering the evictions of homeless people during a police raid in Asheville.
The recent incident in Kansas appears to be “the latest example of American law enforcement officials treating the press in a manner previously associated with authoritarian regimes,” Stern said.
“The anti-press rhetoric that has become so pervasive in this country is more than just talk and creates a dangerous environment for journalists trying to do their jobs,” he added.