Kansas raid attacks all Americans

by Stacey Starkey

As part of the Fourth Estate, community newspapers work continuously to provide the best information to readers about their local community.

Newspapers are “the most relied-upon source or tied for most relied upon for crime, taxes, local government activities, schools, local politics, local jobs, community/neighborhood events, arts events, zoning information, local social services, and real estate/housing,” according to the Pew Research Center.

On Friday, Aug. 11, the Marion Police Department broke the public’s trust by raiding the ‘Marion County Record,’ a family-owned weekly newspaper. Marion is a small town located in east-central Kansas.

In an action that rarely takes place in America, the Marion police raided the newsroom and homes of the owners with a search warrant. The police removed computers and documents, and even seized personal cell phones belonging to staff members.

Less than 24 hours after the raid, which is under investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the paper’s 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Meyer, died. Her son, Eric Meyer, the paper’s editor and publisher, blamed her death on the stress she endured during the raid on her home. The unannounced search of Joan Meyer’s home, reportedly, involved the entire five-member police department.

At the time of the raid, the Record was investigating Police Chief Gideon Cody. The newspaper had information that Cody left his previous job to avoid sexual misconduct charges. The unpublished information about their investigation, including statements against Cody and the names of those who made the statements, is in the computers seized by the police department.

Kari Newell, a restaurant owner, claims the Record illegally obtained information regarding a drunken driving conviction and other driving violations. On Monday, she spoke at a city council meeting in pursuit of a liquor license for her business. The information about Newell’s driving violations could negatively affect her ability to acquire the license.

There is speculation the information may have been released by Newell’s husband as a tactic in their divorce proceedings.

The Record never published any information about Newell’s driving history. The staff was concerned the information was obtained illegally. The paper informed the county sheriff and police chief about the information, so any leak or virus in their systems could be dealt with.

The raid sparked condemnation by news organizations and First Amendment Rights activists around the country.

If the Marion Police Department needed information from the Record, they could have asked for it. The records the police are seeking could have been acquired through a subpoena. Instead, the police department used the most destructive weapon at its disposal.

The legal and social fallout from the actions of the Marion Police Department could last for years.

Was the police raid a vindictive tactic by a solitary business owner who had issues with the ‘Marion County Record?’ Were the police motivated to help the police chief avoid the embarrassment of having his past revealed by reporters?

In order to be a voice in the community, newspapers rely on the First Amendment to protect their work and their right to investigate and report on activities in the community.

The individuals who work for newspapers rely upon the law and law enforcement to protect them.

Any action by the police to silence or damage newspapers threatens the availability of newsrooms to operate. Any attempt by the police or anyone else in authority to cripple journalism is an attack on the American people.

In the end, no information obtained by the Marion Police Department could be worth the loss of faith in police forces across the country as a result of their heavy-handed actions.

No legal settlement or apology will ever be strong enough to restore Joan Meyer’s life.

From the editor