from the sorry-about-the-boot-prints-on-your-rights dept
The free press is supposed to be free. That’s what the First Amendment means. Journalists have a long-acknowledged, supported-by-decades-of-precedent right to publish information that may make the government uncomfortable.
When cops start raiding press outlets, everyone takes notice. This isn’t how this works — not in the United States with its long list of guaranteed rights.
But that’s what happened at a small newspaper in Kansas, for reasons local law enforcement is currently unwilling to explain.
In an unprecedented raid Friday, local law enforcement seized computers, cellphones and reporting materials from the Marion County Record office, the newspaper’s reporters, and the publisher’s home.
Eric Meyer, owner and publisher of the newspaper, said police were motivated by a confidential source who leaked sensitive documents to the newspaper, and the message was clear: “Mind your own business or we’re going to step on you.”
The city’s entire five-officer police force and two sheriff’s deputies took “everything we have,” Meyer said, and it wasn’t clear how the newspaper staff would take the weekly publication to press Tuesday night.
While there’s still some speculation about the reason for this raid, this law enforcement action has at least accelerated the demise of the paper’s owner.
Stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief after illegal police raids on her home and the Marion County Record newspaper office Friday, 98-year-old newspaper co-owner Joan Meyer, otherwise in good health for her age, collapsed Saturday afternoon and died at her home.
She had not been able to eat after police showed up at the door of her home Friday with a search warrant in hand. Neither was she able to sleep Friday night.
She tearfully watched during the raid as police not only carted away her computer and a router used by an Alexa smart speaker but also dug through her son Eric’s personal bank and investments statements to photograph them. Electronic cords were left in a jumbled pile on her floor.
Sure, correlation is not causation, but one can reasonably expect that a law enforcement raid on an elderly person’s home — especially one who had just found out her paper had been raided by the same officers — would not result in an extended life expectancy.
Even if you ignore the death as being nothing more than the result of being 98 years old, you have to recognize the insane overreach that saw a newspaper’s offices raided, followed by a raid of the newspaper owner’s home.
In addition to these raids, officers also raided the home of vice mayor Ruth Herbel.
All anyone knows is what’s stated in the warrant application, as well as a recent bit of friction involving the paper, some leaked DUI records, and a local business owner.
According to Meyer, a retired University of Illinois journalism professor, the raid came after a confidential source leaked sensitive documents to the newspaper about local restaurateur Kari Newell. The source, Meyer said, provided evidence that Newell has been convicted of DUI and was driving without a license—a fact that could spell trouble for her liquor license and catering business.
Meyer, however, said he ultimately did not decide to publish the story about Newell after questioning the motivations of the source. Instead, he said, he just alerted police of the information.
“We thought we were being set up,” Meyer said about the confidential information.
That’s according to the paper’s co-owner, Eric Meyer. These raids were set in motion by information the newspaper didn’t even publish and despite the fact the Marion County Record informed law enforcement about the leaked info.
That’s one theory: that Kari Newell had enough pull to put the police in motion to silence a potential publisher of leaked info that, to this point, had not made the leaked information public.
There’s also another theory, which suggests something even more horrible than a local business owner weaponizing local law enforcement to keep their own misdeeds under wraps.
An interview with Eric Meyer by Marisa Kabas suggests this might have nothing to do with a local restaurateur’s alleged drunk driving. What may actually be happening here is local law enforcement attempting to silence reporting about… well, local law enforcement.
What has remained unreported until now is that, prior to the raids, the newspaper had been actively investigating Gideon Cody, Chief of Police for the city of Marion. They’d received multiple tips alleging he’d retired from his previous job to avoid demotion and punishment over alleged sexual misconduct charges.
And that’s a new wrinkle that makes everything worse. Raiding a newspaper, a newspaper owner’s home, and the home of the vice mayor over unpublished news about a local businessperson’s DUI problems is one thing. Performing these raids to prevent a small paper from publishing what it had discovered about the chief of police is quite another. The first is a horrible infringement of First Amendment rights. The latter is a hideous abuse of law enforcement powers.
According to the warrant, the cops are investigating a couple of crimes. One seems extremely unrelated to either theory: “Identify Theft.” That crime is described as expected: the use of another person’s identity to commit fraud. Nothing in either theory suggests anything like that was committed by the paper, its owners, or the vice mayor. There has been some talk that if you squint and cheat, you could conceivably argue that a possible method of checking Newell’s driver’s license could possibly, technically, violate the state’s identity theft law, but that is an extreme stretch, and still would not justify the full raid and seizures.
The other law cited in the warrant — K.S.A. 21-5839 — is the real problem here. The state law is pretty much the CFAA: a catch-all for “computer” crimes that allows law enforcement (if so motivated) to treat almost anything that might resemble a journalistic effort to gather facts as a crime against computers.
There’s a whole lot of vague language about “authorization,” which means opportunistic cops can use this law to justify raids simply because they did not “authorize” any release of information pertaining to either (a) DUI arrests or citations, or (b) the chief of police’s past history as an alleged sex fiend.
What’s on the record (such as it is) suggests these raids are the acts of officers seeking to protect one of their own: police chief Gideon Cody. The end result of the raids was the seizing of the means of (press) production. Reporters’ computers and phones were seized, along with the small paper’s server — seizures that appear to be designed to silence this press outlet. While ongoing silence would obviously protect the police department, as well as a business owner who may not want the wrong kind of press attention, Occam’s Razor suggests cops will always be far more interested in protecting themselves than taxpayers, no matter how (comparatively) rich they might be.
The Marion, Kansas Police Department has responded to the national outrage generated by its actions. And its official statement uses a whole lot of words to say absolutely nothing.
The Marion Kansas Police Department has has several inquiries regarding an ongoing investigation.
As much as I would like to give everyone details on a criminal investigation I cannot. I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated.
I appreciate all the assistance from all the State and Local investigators along with the entire judicial process thus far.
Speaking in generalities, the federal Privacy Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000aa-2000aa-12, does protect journalists from most searches of newsrooms by federal and state law enforcement officials. It is true that in most cases, it 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.
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 Marion Kansas Police Department believes it is the fundamental duty of the police is to ensure the safety, security, and well-being of all members of the public. This commitment must remain steadfast and unbiased, unaffected by political or media influences, in order to uphold the principles of justice, equal protection, and the rule of law for everyone in the community. The victim asks that we do all the law allows to ensure justice is served. The Marion Kansas Police Department will nothing less.
First off, the judicial system isn’t what’s being “questioned.” It’s the acts of this particular cop shop, which will always be far less impartial than the judges overseeing their cases. While we would like to know why these search warrants we’re granted, we’re far more interested in why law enforcement sought them in the first place.
The rest of this non-explanation is just CYA boilerplate. We all know how cops are supposed to behave. A cop frontmouth telling us that what we’re witnessing is nothing more than cops behaving they way we expect them to — while refusing to provide any specifics — means nothing at all until the facts come out. The problem is the Marion Police Department thinks the lack of facts means it should be given the benefit of a doubt, rather than recognize this is a situation it will need to fully justify if it expects to salvage what’s left of its eroding reputation.
Either way, what local law enforcement should have immediately recognized, long before the raids were carried out, is that this would draw national attention to these unconstitutional raids as well as give the Marion County Recorder a bunch of fans capable of offsetting the damage done by these blundering officers.
This is from Meyer, the paper’s surviving co-owner:
It is kind of heartwarming: One of the things that I just noticed was we got this incredible swelling of people buying subscriptions to the paper off of our website. We got a lot of them, including some—I’m not gonna say who they’re from—but one of them is an extremely famous movie producer and screenwriter who came in and subscribed to the paper all of a sudden. I mean, it’s like, why are people from Poughkeepsie, New York and Los Angeles, California and Seattle, Washington and, you know, all these different places subscribing to the paper?
But a lot of people seem to want to help, and we’ve had people calling, asking “where can I send money to help you?” And, well, we don’t need money right now. We just are gonna have a long weekend of work to do. But we’ll catch up.
No matter the reason for the raids, the cops fucked up. But it will take a lawsuit to hold them accountable for their actions. No one outside of the participating departments believes these actions were justified. No one believes these raids weren’t carried out for the sole purpose of protecting people in power, whether it was a local business owner or the local police chief. Everything about this is wrong. Hopefully, a court will set this straight, as well as require the PD to explain the motivation for its actions in detail, putting to rest the speculation these oversteps have generated.
Filed Under: 1st amendment, 4th amendment, cfaa, computer crimes, eric meyer, free press, free speech, gideon cody, hacking, identity theft, joan meyer, journalism, kansas, kari newell, marion pd, police raid, ruth herbel
Companies: marion county record