FPF statement on alarming police raid of Kansas newspaper

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Marion County Courthouse

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Law enforcement officers in Marion, Kansas reportedly raided a local newspaper’s office and its publisher and owners’ home, seizing computers, cell phones and other materials and injuring at least one journalist in the process. The publisher of the Marion County Record said it’s unclear how the paper will be able to publish its next edition.

“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. Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves,” said Seth Stern, Director of Advocacy for Freedom of the Press Foundation.

The raid was apparently prompted by the Record receiving a tip from a source about a restaurant owner’s drunk driving conviction. “There is nothing illegal about obtaining or verifying a tip from a source,” said Stern.

The paper decided against reporting on the drunk driving conviction (which the restaurant owner reportedly admits) but, according to the Record, the entire police department along with sheriff’s deputies conducted the raid, pursuant to a warrant, unsupported by the required affidavit, vaguely alluding to “identity theft.” The warrant, signed by Judge Laura Viar, provided for seizure of a virtually limitless range of records and devices, and made no effort to protect confidential source communications.

Personal electronics used by the paper’s 98-year-old co-owner Joan Meyer, including a smart speaker she uses to ask for assistance, were among the items the Record says were seized. Officers also reportedly photographed personal financial statements of Meyer’s son and Record co-owner and publisher, Eric Meyer, and made the paper’s staff stand outside for hours during a heat advisory, unable to work.

The Record said it will sue, and it absolutely should. “This looks like the latest example of American law enforcement officers treating the press in a manner previously associated with authoritarian regimes. The anti-press rhetoric that’s become so pervasive in this country has become more than just talk and is creating a dangerous environment for journalists trying to do their jobs” said Stern.

Earlier this year, McCurtain County, Oklahoma officials were caught on tape fantasizing about murdering local journalists. And authorities in Asheville, North Carolina put two journalists on trial for reporting on police evicting a homeless encampment and banned them from city parks.

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