First Amendment violation concerns were at the fore as Kansas law enforcement was accused of conducting a raid on a local newspaper with a questionable warrant.
Eric Meyer, both the publisher and owner of the Marion County Record spoke to the “chilling effect” he believed the raid would have on the community after the entire police force was sent in to seize their property. Discussing the matter with the Kansas Reflector, the newspaperman contested that a clear message had been sent:
“Mind your own business or we’re going to step on you.”
The impetus for the raid conducted Friday by five police officers and two sheriff’s deputies was said to have related to stories the publication had run after getting kicked out of an event by a restaurant owner, Kari Newell, hosting Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-KS).
The Record had allegedly learned of Newell’s lack of a driver’s license and drunk driving conviction, details that were said to place the restaurant owner’s liquor license application in jeopardy. Rather than run the story, Meyer detailed that he contacted the police because, as he told the Reflector, “We thought we were being set up.”
At that point, the police contacted the restaurant owner who was then said to have complained during a city council meeting that her records were illegally obtained.
From there, Marion County District Magistrate Judge Laura Viar had signed off on a search warrant that triggered the raid at the newspaper, the home Meyer shares with his 98-year-old mother Joan Meyer, and the vice mayor Ruth Herbel in which cell phones and computers were taken along with other equipment, the Record reported.
They took “everything we have,” Meyer told the Reflector.
“It’s going to have a chilling effect on us even tackling issues,” he expressed along with “a chilling effect on people giving us information.”
Newell was alleged to have used connections with authorities to spur the investigation. However, while reports argued that the search warrant appeared to be a violation of federal law, law enforcement defended their actions.
In response to the allegations, the Marion Kansas Police Department, unable to comment on an ongoing investigation, noted “in generalities” that the federal Privacy Protection Act “does protect journalists from most searches of newsrooms by federal and state law enforcement officials.”
They went on to note, “The Act requires criminal investigators to get a subpoena instead of a search warrant when seeking ‘work product materials’ and ‘documentary materials’ from the press, except in circumstances, including: (1) when there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing.”
The restaurant owner had remarked in her own defense that she “knowingly operated a vehicle without a license out of necessity” and she slammed the Record stating, “Journalists have become the dirty politicians of today, twisting narrative for bias agendas, full of muddied half-truths. We rarely get facts that aren’t baited with misleading insinuations.”
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