A local Kansas newspaper whose offices were raided by an entire police department on Friday says its 98-year-old co-owner has now died after she was left “stressed beyond her limits.”
Joan Meyer “collapsed Saturday afternoon and died at her home,” the Marion County Record reported, noting that she had been “in good health for her age.” The newspaper’s publisher and co-owner, Eric Meyer, told The Daily Beast that the tragic death came after a raid that lasted several hours—and included a visit from the Marion Police Department chief.
“She made a point last night to say the officers were polite. But it was just annoying to have them there,” he said, adding that his mother was overwhelmed by the ordeal and could not eat after the raid.
The raid at the 98-year-old’s home was among several the Marion Police Department, which includes five officers and two sheriff’s deputies, conducted on Friday in an ongoing investigation. Police also hit Marion County Record’s office, Meyer’s home, and one of its reporters—resulting in the seizure of vital reporting materials.
“All the raids appeared to be simultaneous,” Meyer said, adding that police “wouldn’t complete them until the police chief himself was there. The chief went to the newspaper offices first and officers were just standing at my mother’s house for two, three hours before the chief showed up.”
“They showed up like the Gestapo.”
He added that during the raid at the Marion County Record’s office, his business manager was left standing outside for hours.
Meyer revealed in the Record’s article about the raid that the newspaper, which has been in operation for decades, now does not have the reporting and publishing materials necessary to print its next edition. He told The Daily Beast that among the things that were seized were three personal cell phones, a backup hard drive, a router, and at least six computers.
“We are going to publish, somehow,” Meyer said. “We have resurrected an old Windows XP. But it’s the nitty gritty stuff nobody can help us with. Like where is the ad log? Where is our nameplate?”
The publisher also revealed that the outlet has plans to file a federal lawsuit against the City of Marion and those involved in the search. The raid was first reported by the Kansas Reflector.
According to Meyer, a retired University of Illinois journalism professor, the raid came after a confidential source leaked sensitive documents to the newspaper about local restaurateur Kari Newell. The source, Meyer said, provided evidence that Newell had been convicted of DUI and was driving without a license—a fact that could spell trouble for her liquor license and catering business.
Meyer, however, said he ultimately did not decide to publish the story about Newell after questioning the motivations of the source. Instead, he said, he just alerted the police of the information.
“We thought we were being set up,” Meyer said about the confidential information.
The raid immediately sparked outrage online, calling into question why an entire police force was involved in a raid that could have violated federal law and could escalate the ongoing anti-press rhetoric that is dangerous for journalists simply doing their jobs.
“The raid was chilling and unprecedented, like a scene out of 1945 Nazi Germany,” Danny Karon, an adjunct professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, told The Daily Beast.
According to the search warrant for the Marion County Record Office obtained by the Reflector, officers allege the raid stems from an investigation into unlawful acts concerning a computer and identity theft.
The two-page warrant also states officers were allowed to seize a slew of material, including digital communications, servers, computer software, items containing passwords or access codes, and all correspondence and documents “pertaining to Kari Newell.” During the raid, according to the Marion County Record’s article, police also took Meyer’s mother’s Alexa smart speaker, a move that left the 98-year-old in tears.
Meyer told The Daily Beast that police did not say much on Friday when they were executing the raids, but that he immediately knew it was about Newell because of the undetailed search warrant. He said that since the raids, he and his attorney have filed several requests to see the probable cause affidavit that was used to apply for the search warrant—but have yet to get a copy of the document.
The Reflector reported the raid also came just after the Record published an article about Newell, who responded by kicking reporters out of a meeting last week with Rep. Jake LaTurner. She also alleged that the newspaper had illegally obtained and circulated sensitive documents, which the outlet responded to in its Thursday article. (Turner and Newell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
Meyer told The Daily Beast that he has spoken to Newell since the raid, who he said admitted to him that she previously had a drunk driving conviction and that she had been driving without a license. He added that she did not apologize about the raid and that she said her lawyers were pursuing criminal charges.
“For a criminal case, you have to prove there was criminal intent. There has to be an attempt to do something wrong. We had no intent to do anything that was illegal,” Meyer said.
Marion Police Department Chief Gideon Cody declined to provide details on the incident, but he hinted to The Daily Beast that it is a “criminal investigation” that may have more details than what is currently being reported.
The chief said that the federal Privacy Protection Act “does protect journalists from most searches of newsrooms”—and requires police to use a subpoena rather than a search warrant—unless the journalists “themselves are suspects in the offense that is the subject of the search.” He added that investigators must obtain a subpoena when seeking “work product materials” and “documentary materials” from the press, except in certain circumstances, including “when there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing.”
“The Marion Kansas Police Department believes it is the fundamental duty of the police is to ensure the safety, security, and well-being of all members of the public,” he added. “This commitment must remain steadfast and unbiased, unaffected by political or media influences, in order to uphold the principles of justice, equal protection, and the rule of law for everyone in the community.
“The victim asks that we do all the law allows to ensure justice is served,” he added. “I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated.”
A spokesperson for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said that at the request of the Marion Police Department on Aug. 8, the agency began “an investigation into allegations of criminal wrongdoing” in the town an hour outside of Wichita.
But several experts and advocates consulted by The Daily Beast believe that the situation is a little more complicated and would have a chilling effect on local journalists reporting on public figures.
Others are also calling into question whether the search warrant signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar adhered to the federal law protecting journalists from searches and seizures.
“An attack on a newspaper office through an illegal search is not just an infringement on the rights of journalists but an assault on the very foundation of democracy and the public’s right to know,” Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said in a statement. “This cannot be allowed to stand.”
Steven J. Hyman, a trial lawyer and former President of the Board of Directors of the New York Civil Liberties Union, noted that the “search seems so broad, using as an excuse some privacy violation with regard to an alleged DUI, that its purpose was more to silence the newspaper than get legitimate evidence of a crime.”
“Under such circumstances, an argument certainly can be made that it goes well beyond the permitted use of a search warrant… and therefore has serious first amendment implications,” he added.
Meyer added that in his nearly five decades of teaching and practicing journalism, he has never heard of a police department raiding a newspaper.
“This is my first rodeo of anyone coming into a newspaper office and searching it,” Meyer said. “I’m sitting here waiting to see what other shoe is going to drop.”