The entirety of Marion Police Department's five-member police force and two sheriff deputies invaded the Marion County Record's office and, in its publisher Eric Meyer's view, this unanticipated blitz stressed his 98-year-old mother enough to cause her death the day after the raid.
"She had not been able to eat after police showed up at the door of her home Friday with a search warrant in hand," Meyer wrote in a story posted Saturday. "Neither was she able to sleep Friday night." He worked with his staff Sunday to reconstruct stories, ads, and other materials for its next edition Wednesday, even as he took time on Monday to provide a local funeral home with information about his mother and the paper’s co-owner, Joan.
This "assault" has chillingly been called a clear attack on the free press, lending a profound sense of foreboding to the future of investigative journalism, Reclaim the Net wrote. As per Meyer, who is a veteran journalist with an experience of two decades at the Milwaukee Journal and 26 years as a journalism professor at the University of Illinois, the local law enforcement's message was clear: "Abide by our rules, or face the muzzling consequences."
The surprise incursion was reported to be due to the newspaper's story that came out detailing local restaurateur Kari Newell chasing reporters from a meeting featuring U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner. The paper also exposed Newell for driving without a license and a history of driving under the influence (DUI).
A search warrant issued by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar tied Friday morning raids, led by Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, to a dispute between the newspaper and Newell. She is accusing the newspaper of invading her privacy and illegally accessing information about her and her driving record. The restauranter suggested that the newspaper targeted her after she threw its owner and a reporter out of the restaurant during a political event.
Meyer denied Newell's complaints. The former thinks the paper's aggressive coverage of local politics and issues makes his publication a "hot target." He said the newspaper was examining Cody's past work with the Kansas City, Missouri, police, too. "This is the type of stuff that, you know, that Vladimir Putin does, that Third World dictators do," Meyer said during an interview in his office. "This is Gestapo tactics from World War II."
According to reports, a Record reporter suffered an injury to a finger when Cody wrested her cell phone out of her hand. A surveillance video showed officers reading that reporter her rights while Cody watched, though she wasn't arrested or detained. Newspaper employees were hustled out of the building while the search continued for more than 90 minutes, according to the footage.
"I fully believe that the intent was to do harm and merely tarnish my reputation, and I think if had it been left at that, I don't think that it would have blown up as big as it was," Newell said in a separate telephone interview.
Meanwhile, the police chief insisted that the raid was legal and is tied to an investigation.
Concerning the unfortunate events, the Kansas Press Association's (KPA's) Executive Director Emily Bradbury defended the sanctity of journalism as a cornerstone of democracy and public awareness. She told USA Today: "This has never happened in Kansas, so this has a chilling effect and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that this kind of practice is not encouraged and people are held accountable." (Related: Censorship defenders finally admit they hate First Amendment, want free speech curtailed as policy of "national interest.")
Other local newspapers are helping so Meyer's newspaper can publish this week. KPA has also heard from several First Amendment organizations, to whom Bradbury said: "If you want to unite journalists, this is the way to do it." Meanwhile, another group, the National Newspaper Association (NNA) called on authorities to return any property seized so "the newspaper can proceed with its work," NNA chairperson John Galer posted on Facebook and in a statement on the association site.
Reports reveal that Newell continues to propel accusatory narratives of biased journalism, describing the entire situation as a ploy to tarnish her reputation and impede her business. Also, Cody, who is the only one who can comment on the incident from an institutional perspective, frustratingly remained unavailable. Similarly, the office of Attorney General Kris Kobach fell silent on commenting on the controversy.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has confirmed it was brought in to investigate criminal allegations, on request from the local police department.
Follow PoliceState.news to read more about how U.S. law enforcement suppresses freedom of the press.