Raid on small-town Kansas newspaper draws global attention, condemnation, ominous letter from attorney

Marion, Kansas officials employed “Hitler tactics” in raiding the local newspaper as if it were “a drug cartel or a street gang,” the publisher’s lawyer writes in a scathing letter.

The letter this week to Marion Chief of Police Gideon Cody from Kansas City attorney Bernie Rhodes demands law enforcement not review any information on the computers, cell phones and other equipment taken in Friday’s raid of the Marion County Record.

“As you were told on Friday, the computers, cell phones and other items you illegally seized contain the (identity) of confidential sources, as well as information provided by those confidential sources,” Rhodes warns the chief. “This information is protected by both federal and state law.”

The newspaper is entitled to a court hearing prior to any such viewing of information under Kansas law, Rhodes contends, adding that the raid “plainly violated the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as Sections 11, 15, and 18 of the Kansas Bill of Rights.”

The letter, while aggressive in protecting the newspaper’s rights, offers the chief and others involved in the raid a way to contain the damage already inflicted on the newspaper and freedom of the press.

“I can assure you that the Record will take every step to obtain relief for the damages your heavy-handed actions have already caused my client,” Rhodes writes. “[T]his letter offers you an opportunity to mitigate those damages going forward. If I were you, I would jump at this opportunity.”

After city and county officers raided the Record offices, as well as the home that publisher Eric Meyer shared with his 98-year-old mother Joan, she was highly stressed and unable to sleep or eat – and died the next day in the middle of a sentence, Meyer told the media.

“She would not go to bed that night. She would not eat dinner. She sat up in a chair. She went back to bed, and said, ‘I don’t feel very good. I’m not sure what I can do.’ I said, ‘Well, you better eat breakfast,’ and she said, ‘I don’t know if I ca-’ – and died in the middle of the sentence right there,” Meyer said, according to Wichita station KWCH.

It was the mother’s sentiment that local law enforcement had deployed “Hitler tactics” that Rhodes alluded to in his letter.

The raid, reports the Associated Press, was the apparent result of “a dispute between the newspaper and a local restaurant owner, Kari Newell. She is accusing the newspaper of invading her privacy and illegally accessing information about her and her driving record …”

The raid has made international news and earned near-universal condemnation for its implications for press freedom – in the heartland of America, no less. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press quickly denounced the raid in a letter signed by nearly three dozen other media outlets and organizations.

“Newsroom searches and seizures are among the most intrusive actions law enforcement can take with respect to the free press, and the most potentially suppressive of free speech by the press and the public,” the letter reads.

“Based on public reporting, the search warrant that has been published online, and your public statements to the press, there appears to be no justification for the breadth and intrusiveness of the search – particularly when other investigative steps may have been available – and we are concerned that it may have violated federal law strictly limiting federal, state, and local law enforcement’s ability to conduct newsroom searches.

“We urge you to immediately return the seized material to the Record, to purge any records that may already have been accessed, and to initiate a full independent and transparent review of your department’s actions.”


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