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The Strange Raid of a Small-Town Kansas Newspaper and the Missing Facts

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

When Gideon Cody accepted an offer to become the Police Chief in Marion, Kansas, he told the local newspaper that two of his priorities would include “transparency and more responsive media relations.” But just four months later, he guided his entire police force in conducting a raid on that very paper, an incident that is being criticized by judicial experts for being illegal and by journalism organizations nationwide for the threat it poses to freedom of the press.

According to media accounts, cops seized computers, cell phones, and other reporting materials from the Marion County Record’s newsroom, and also raided the home where the publisher and his 98 year old mother lived. The publisher, Eric Meyer, told the Kansas Reflector that so many records were seized, he is concerned not only about having the information and materials he would need to push out the weekly paper next Wednesday, but also about the long term chilling effects the surprise raids would have on pursuing the news and on confidential sources sharing information for stories.

Why? It’s Bizarre.

The raid occurred shortly after Meyer reported that a local restaurant owner had police kick reporters out of a public form that the area’s Congressman, Jake Laturner was holding in her restaurant. LaTurner had invited local media, and citizens, to come to the forum. But the restaurant owner, Kari Newell, didn't like the way the Record covers local news and said some of the forum attendees felt the same way. The Record ran a story about not having been allowed to cover the public meeting, and it was after that, the editor has told media outlets, that a tip came into the newsroom that Newell had a drunk driving conviction, and a suspended license yet was still driving. This information could have impacted an application for a liquor license for the restaurant. The Record verified the information with the state but decided not to publish a story because Newell also has a divorce pending and the publisher wasn’t about to put his paper in the middle of that.

The story might never have seen the light of day had Newell herself not complained at a public city council meeting about the paper’s actions investigating her. They illegally obtained the information about her driving record, she claimed at the council meeting, which the Record attended and then published a story. The Record contends that a confidential source sent “over social media” all the information it would need to confirm Newell’s driving record with the state, and that its team engaged in no illegal activity or subterfuge.

The record’s editor has revealed since the raids that the staff was also investigating Chief Cody’s past career with the Kansas City Police Department and whether any misconduct there may have forced his resignation.

It's unclear whether Chief Cody addressed the issue of Newell driving without a license, but the department did accept her claim that the paper illegally verified her drunk driving record and that it was a case of identity theft. A local judge signed off on the search warrant. Jurists and journalistic organizations say the raids were illegal and that the records and digital devices should have been subpoenaed, not seized. But Cody told CNN the raid was legal because it’s believed a journalist committed a crime. He believes when the facts come out the decision to conduct the raids will be vindicated.

But right now, convincing facts are lacking. The search warrant merely asks permission for the search and seizure of a broad list of materials but doesn’t spell out why police think there was “identity theft” or the “illegal use of a computer.” Such information would normally be spelled out in an affidavit for probable cause. But Kansas media outlets which requested a copy of an affidavit reported they were told “there isn’t one on file.”

Did I mention this is bizarre? It’s also tragic.

Meyer’s elderly mother suffered a fatal heart attack the day after the raid. Joan Meyer was upset by the “Hitler” like approach to the raids, her son said, and watched angrily as police seized some of her electronics and took pictures of her son’s banking and investment records. (if that is true I will have trouble connecting the dots between his finances and an investigation of a local business owner’s driving record. Just me?) She was in good health for her age, Eric Meyer said, but collapsed Saturday morning and died.

The Marion County Record has been publishing weekly since 1869 and the Meyer family has been involved in its leadership and ownership for 60 years. It champions small town life in a community with only 2,000 residents. But what happened on August 11 has taken on a much bigger life.

If the search warrant is the only file that enabled the search, the perception of this incident is that the powers that be in Marion, Kansas, have a vendetta against the paper, and that the search was illegal and is a threat to freedom of the press.

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