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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Michael Sainato

Office and homes of reporters at local Kansas newspaper raided by police

newspaper printing
The owner and publisher of the paper said the raid and seizure stemmed from a confidential source leaking sensitive documents to the newspaper. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Local police in Marion, Kansas, conducted a raid on the offices of a local newspaper on Friday as well as the homes of the publication’s publishers and reporters.

Eric Meyer, the owner and publisher of the Marion County Record, told the Kansas Reflector that the city’s entire five-officer police force and two sheriff’s deputies conducted the raid, which included the seizure of computers, cellphones and reporting materials.

Meyer said the raid and seizure stemmed from a confidential source leaking sensitive documents to the newspaper. He criticized the seizure, comparing it to seizures conducted by repressive government regimes.

Last week, a local restaurant proprietor, Kari Newell, had police remove Marion County Record reporters from an open forum held by the US congressman Jake LaTurner. The congressman’s staff apologized as they had invited the press.

According to Meyer, a confidential source leaked evidence that Newell had been convicted of drink-driving and continued using her vehicle without a license. But the paper never published anything related to it as they suspected the source was relaying information from Newell’s husband during their divorce proceedings.

The Kansas Reflector reported: “Police notified Newell, who then complained at a city council meeting that the newspaper had illegally obtained and disseminated sensitive documents, which isn’t true. Her public comments prompted the newspaper to set the record straight in a story published Thursday.”

The paper added that Newell admitted to the drink-driving arrest and driving with a suspended license.

Then came Friday’s raid and seizures, authorized by a search warrant that alleged identity theft and unlawful use of a computer. The seized materials included publishing and reporting materials that the newspaper relied on to publish their next edition, and they were not given a timeframe for when seized computers and phones would be returned.

The Kansas Reflector reported: “The search warrant, signed by Marion county district court magistrate judge Laura Viar, appears to violate federal law that provides protections against searching and seizing materials from journalists. The law requires law enforcement to subpoena materials instead. Viar didn’t respond to a request to comment for this story or explain why she would authorize a potentially illegal raid.”

The Marion police chief, Gideon Cody, did not respond to a request for comment.

Press advocates have condemned the raid as an infringement on the freedom of the press.

“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,” said Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, in a statement to the Kansas Reflector. “This cannot be allowed to stand.”

The chairperson of the National Newspaper Association, John Galer, added in a statement on Facebook: “Newsroom raids in this country receded into history 50 years ago. Today, law enforcement agencies by and large understand that gathering information from newsrooms is a last resort and then done only with subpoenas that protect the rights of all involved.

“For a newspaper to be intimidated by an unannounced search and seizure is unthinkable in an America that respects its first amendment rights.”

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