- Date of Incident
- August 11, 2023
- Status of Seized Equipment
- Returned in full
- Search Warrant Obtained
- Actor who seized equipment
- Law enforcement
Police turn over photos taken during raid on Marion County publishers’ home
In addition to seizing computers, a hard drive and the personal cellphone of the Record’s Editor and Publisher Eric Meyer during the Aug. 11 raid on the home he shared with his mother, the paper’s co-owner Joan Meyer, police captured images of his belongings.
The Sheriff’s Office relinquished the photos taken at the home and the newspaper office as part of an Aug. 29 court order.
The outlet’s attorney, Bernard J. Rhodes, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker via email that, to his knowledge, everything seized in the raid has now been returned.
Kansas county attorney withdraws search warrant, returns seized equipment
On Aug. 16, 2023, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey released a statement withdrawing the search warrant used to raid the home of the Marion County Record’s co-owners and authorizing the release of seized equipment and reporting materials, citing “insufficient evidence” to justify the search. Ensey also asked the court to release the affidavits filed to obtain the warrants.
Three computers, a hard drive and the personal cellphone of Editor and Publisher Eric Meyer were seized when local law enforcement searched his home on Aug. 11 as part of an investigation into alleged unlawful use of a computer and identity theft. Newspaper and personal equipment, as well as reporting materials, were also seized during a simultaneous raid of the newspaper’s offices.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said that it is continuing investigation independently, but without review of any seized materials.
Bernie Rhodes, the attorney representing the Record, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that law enforcement has said the equipment was not searched. He said he plans to have a forensics expert confirm that the devices were not accessed or altered.
“This is a promising first step to stop the hemorrhaging from the violation of the paper’s First Amendment rights, but it does nothing to cure the damages done by the original illegal search,” Rhodes said, adding that they are actively contemplating a civil rights lawsuit.
“While I’m pleased with today’s developments, we have a long way to go to establish that justice is served,” Rhodes said.
The Record published its first edition since the raid on Aug. 16, KWCH reported, with the headline article titled, “Seized… but not silenced.”
Local law enforcement executed a search warrant on the home of the owners and editor/publisher of the Marion County Record on Aug. 11, 2023. A simultaneous raid on the Kansas newspaper’s offices and equipment seizure jeopardized its ability to publish its upcoming weekly edition.
A copy of one of the search warrants, obtained by the Kansas Reflector, shows that the searches were undertaken as part of an investigation into alleged unlawful use of a computer and identity theft.
According to the Record, however, when a reporter requested a copy of the probable cause affidavit that summarizes the circumstances and evidence supporting the warrant, the district court issued a signed statement that there wasn’t one on file.
The Record reported that during an Aug. 7 city council meeting a local restaurant owner, Kari Newell, had accused the newspaper of illegally obtaining information that she had a prior DUI conviction and had driven without a license, as well as supplying the information to Marion Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel.
In an article responding to the allegations, Editor and Publisher Eric Meyer said that a source had reached out with the information via Facebook, and had independently sent it to Herbel as well. The Record had verified the allegations through a public website but decided not to publish it, instead alerting the Marion Police Department that the source may have obtained the information illegally.
The morning of Aug. 11, Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar signed search warrants for the newsroom and Meyer’s home — where he lives with his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, a co-owner and correspondent for the Record. According to the Reflector, Marion Police Department officers and Marion County sheriff’s deputies executed the warrants within hours.
Joan Meyer passed away the following day, which the Record attributed in part to the stress of the raid. According to court documents obtained by KSHB, officers seized three computers, including a router, Eric Meyer’s cellphone, a storage device and reporting materials.
Meyer, a veteran reporter from the Milwaukee Journal and former journalism professor at the University of Illinois, told The Kansas City Star following the raid that the Record had also been investigating Cody’s background and allegations of wrongdoing.
Cody, who did not immediately respond to a request for further information, told the Star that the lack of an article about the allegations shows they had no basis. “If it was true, they would’ve printed it,” Cody said.
On Aug. 14, a coalition of more than 30 press freedom organizations sent a letter to Cody condemning the raids and calling for the return of the newspaper’s equipment and reporting materials.
Freedom of the Press Foundation, which operates the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, called the raid “alarming.”
“Based on the reporting so far, the police raid of the Marion County Record on Friday appears to have violated federal law, the First Amendment, and basic human decency,” said Director of Advocacy Seth Stern. “Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.”
In a statement released on Facebook, Cody defended the legality of the raid and said that the Marion Police Department had received assistance from local and state investigators.
“It is true that in most cases, [the federal Privacy Protection Act] requires police to use subpoenas, rather than search warrants, to search the premises of journalists unless they themselves are suspects in the offense that is the subject of the search,” Cody wrote.
Meyer, who could not immediately be reached for comment, told the Record that while the paper’s attorneys are working to have the equipment returned, they also plan to file a federal lawsuit to ensure that such a raid never happens again.
“Our first priority is to be able to publish next week,” Meyer said, “but we also want to make sure no other news organization is ever exposed to the Gestapo tactics we witnessed today. We will be seeking the maximum sanctions possible under law.”
This article was updated to reflect reporting from KSHB around the type of equipment seized.