Police officers raided the office of The Marion County Recorder and the home of one of the newspaper’s owners in Kansas on Aug. 11, 2023. First Amendment advocates and concerned journalists are outraged calling the raid an illegal search and a violation of their first amendment rights.
The raid was prompted by allegations of identity theft against the paper by a local restaurant owner after journalists had obtained information about her driving record. She publicly made these allegations at a city council meeting, and in response, the Recorder published a story explaining their actions and research process, claiming the restaurant owner’s accusations were false. The raid was done the following day, and the police had obtained a search warrant from a county judge in Marion, Kansas.
Under the warrant, the police were able to search devices that were used to access the Kansas Department of Revenue records website and documents relating to the restaurant owner. They seized computers and personal cell phones of employees. Police also confiscated the newspaper’s computer file server and other equipment, according to the Recorder.
Police also raided the home of 98-year-old Joan Meyer, the co-owner of the Record. From her home, law enforcement seized her computer router used by an Alexa smart speaker. The day following the raid, Meyer passed away. Representatives from the newspaper and her family blame the raid for her sudden death. They say that she was in good health for her age, but allege that the stress and shock from the raid harmed her wellbeing. There has been no comment from the police
First Amendment advocates and lawyers have rejected police reasoning for the raid, and are claiming that it was a violation of federal law. The Privacy Protection Act generally safeguards journalists and their publications from raids like what happened in Kansas. Jared McLaine, an attorney for the Institute for Justice told the Kansas Reflector, “It appears like the police department is trying to criminalize protected speech in an attempt to sidestep federal law… It chills the important function of journalism when police raid a newsroom, storm the homes of reporters, seize their property and gain access to their confidential sources. That’s precisely why we must hold accountable officers who retaliate against people who exercise their First Amendment Rights.” However, law enforcement continues to defend their actions claiming that the court system will side with them.
To learn more about this developing story and the legal and free speech issues involved, read this article from the Kansas Reflector.