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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Alex Woodward

Kansas prosecutor finds ‘insufficient evidence’ for newspaper raid that drew international backlash


A county prosecutor has withdrawn a warrant for a widely condemned police raid on a small-town weekly newspaper’s office in Kansas over “insufficient evidence,” as the state agency investigating the incident has ordered the return of seized evidence.

Last week, Marion County Police officers and sheriff’s deputies seized phones and equipment and effectively forced the 154-year-old Marion County Record to shut down, drawing criticism and warnings from press freedom groups, civil rights advocates and attorneys.

On 16 August, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey said there was “insufficient evidence” to establish a “legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.”

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation also announced that an investigation will proceed independently “without review or examination of any of the evidence seized” from the raid on 11 Friday, according to a statement shared with The Independent.

A two-page warrant for the raid, signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, stated that officers were allowed to seize phones, software, items that contained passwords, and all correspondence and documents “pertaining to” a local restaurant owner Kari Newell under the paper’s investigation, though no stories about her were published.

The warrant appeared to allege that a reporter illegally obtained sealed state records about Ms Newell’s prior arrest and citation for driving under the influence in 2008. It refers to identity theft and “unlawful acts concerning computers” as probable cause for the search.

The paper also was actively investigating allegations of misconduct surrounding Gideon Cody, Marion’s chief of police.

Officers also reportedly photographed personal financial statements and seized personal items, including a smart speaker used by the paper’s 98-year-old co-owner Joan Meyer who used the device to ask for assistance.

Ms Meyer – the mother of publisher Eric Meyer, and “stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief,” according to the newspaper – collapsed and died one day after the raid.

The newspaper obtained a copy of the probable cause affidavit after the raid, finding that it was “filed three days after those searches were conducted, which is a little suspicious,” Mr Meyer told CNN.

Eric Meyer, publisher of the Marion County Record in Marion, Kansas
— (AP)

A statement from the Marion Police Department last week acknowledged that the federal Privacy Protection Act protects journalists “from most searches of newsrooms” unless “they themselves are suspects in the offense that is the subject of the search.”

On 13 August, a group of more than 30 news organisations and publishers including The New York Times and the Associated Press joined a statement from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press urging the Marion Police Department to return seized material, purge records that were accessed, and initiate a “full independent and transparent review” of the incident.

“Newsroom searches and seizures are among the most intrusive actions law enforcement can take with respect to the free press, and the most potentially suppressive of free speech by the press and the public,” the statement said.

“Anyone should have realized that sending the entire police force to search a newsroom because journalists verified information from a source is an outrageous overreaction that threatens freedom of the press,” Freedom of the Press Foundation deputy director of advocacy Caitlin Vogus said in a statement shared with The Independent on 16 August.

“This raid never should have happened,” she added.

Kansas City attorney Bernie Rhodes told The Star that the announcement from state prosecutors has “stopped the hemorrhaging,” but “it does nothing about taking care of the damage that has already occurred from the violation of the First Amendment in the first place.”

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