MARION COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Days after the Marion County Record‘s items were seized in a raid by the Marion Police Department, they are being returned.
Attorney Bernie Rhodes for the Marion County Record said the Marion County Attorney has withdrawn the search warrant, and the items seized are being released.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says the “investigation remains open, however, we have determined in collaboration with the Marion County Attorney, that the investigation will proceed independently, and without review or examination of any of the evidence seized on Friday, Aug. 11.”
After the announcement, Marion County Record publisher and editor Eric Meyer spoke to the media.
“We were very pleased to be alerted this morning that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has moved to, has requested that the search warrant be vacated,” he said.
Meyer said they have been told that the computers and cell phones were not searched, but the newspaper’s attorney has asked that the items be forensically examined to confirm that.
He said the newspaper was also told that it would be informed first if the Marion County Attorney withdrew the search warrant. Meyer said that did not happen.
“We have not received that news release, but the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has released it from their PR offices in Topeka to other media,” he said. “So, we don’t know why our county attorney has not decided to let us know this earlier, but it does kind of hint at the notion that maybe there’s political motivations going on behind how the justice system is being used in this situation. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just, ‘Oh, we were busy and didn’t get around to it.'”
He also spoke about the death of his mother, 98-year-old Joan Meyer. She was the paper’s co-owner. Meyer said his mother was in good health but died the day after the raid.
“I will say she was the type of person, although her last 24 hours on this world were very, very difficult and very frustrating for making her believe her whole life had been worthless, this is the type of thing that she would really like,” Meyer said. “She would like to be thought of almost as a martyr for the cause, and, to an extent, I think she is.”
The Friday raid
On Friday, Marion police seized the newspaper’s computers, phones and file server, and the personal cellphones of staff, based on a search warrant investigating alleged identity theft.
Police simultaneously raided Meyer’s home, seizing computers, his cell phone and the home’s internet router. Meyer blames the stress of the home raid for the Saturday death of his mother.
According to Meyer, there were questions about a story one week before the police entered his business. His newspaper notified the sheriff and the police chief that they’d obtained documents from the state that a local restaurant owner, Kari Newell, had driven on a suspended license after getting a DUI.
The Marion County Record told law enforcement they had no plans to publish the information in a story. Still, one week later, police entered the building with a search warrant signed by Marion County Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar and seized equipment.
Rhodes said the newspaper was investigating the circumstances around Police Chief Gideon Cody’s departure from his previous job as an officer in Kansas City, Missouri. Cody left the Kansas City department earlier this year and began the job in Marion in June.
Publishing without the seized items
On Wednesday, the Marion County Record published its first newspaper since the incident. The front page headline is “SEIZED … but not silenced.”
Meyer said newspaper staff worked until 5 a.m. Wednesday to put out the new edition. The office was so hectic that Kansas Press Association Executive Director Emily Bradbury was at once answering phones and ordering meals for staffers.
Bradbury said the journalists and those involved in the business of the newspaper used a couple of old computers that police didn’t confiscate, taking turns to get stories to the printer, to assemble ads and to check email. With electronics scarce, staffers made do with what they had.
About 4,000 people subscribed to the newspaper before the raid. In the last few days, there has been a spike in subscriptions.
“We’ve had 2,000 new subscriptions come in by email, and we’ve had more than that, various messages of support, and requests to have interviews and all the regular stuff,” Meyer said.
The newspaper’s attorney released a statement about the seized items being released.
This is a promising first step, but it does nothing to make up for the violation of the First Amendment rights of the newspaper resulting from the illegal searches themselves and, regrettably, it does not bring Joan Meyer back.”Bernie Rhodes, attorney for the Marion County Record
This is the complete statement from the Marion County Attorney:
On Monday, August 14, 2023, I reviewed in detail the warrant applications made Friday, August 11, 2023 to search various locations in Marion County including the office of the Marion County Record. The affidavits, which I am asking the court to release, established probable cause to believe that an employee of the newspaper may have committed the crime of K.S.A. 21-5839, Unlawful Acts Concerning Computers. Upon further review however, I have come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized. As a result, I have submitted a proposed order asking the court to release the evidence seized. I have asked local law enforcement to return the material seized to the owners of the property.
“This matter will remain under review until such time as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the agency now in charge of the investigation, may submit any findings to this office for a charging decision. At such time, a determination will be made as to whether sufficient evidence exists under the applicable rules and standards to support a charge for any offense.
“It is important to note that all individuals who may be the subject of an investigation are presumed innocent until and unless a charge is proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.”Joel Ensey, Marion County Attorney
The Radio Television Digital News Association released a statement supporting the Marion County Record.
“RTDNA still seeks justice and accountability, and the initiation of a thorough and transparent review of the police department’s actions,” it said. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to upholding press freedom and advocating for the rights of journalists, who serve the public by seeking and reporting the truth.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre even weighed in on the situation in Marion County.
So we’ve seen reports, I’m not spoken to the president about this. I know this happened a couple of days ago about the raid on the Marion County Record offices. And certainly they raised a lot of concerns and a lot of questions for us, you know, I don’t want to get ahead of the facts and the legal process as you all know that’s underway but more broadly speaking it is i t to me and from here to the president to it reiterate, as he has done many times before the freedom of the press, that is the core value. When we think about our democracy, when you think about the cornerstone of our democracy, the freedom of press is right there. That is our core value. So this administration has been here, has been vocal about the importance of the freedom of press here and around the globe, as we all say, the president always speaks about that. It doesn’t matter who he is talking to when he is visiting a country or talking to a head of state. We will continue to reaffirm and protect this fundamental rights enshrined in the very First Amendement. You can certainly count on us to continue to do that. As far as the legal aspect of this, I would have to refer you to the Department of Justice.”White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre