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Reporter injured, newspaper co-owner dies next day

Story and photos by Jonathan Goetz

August 14, 2023 (Marion, Kansas) – Seven police and sheriff's officers in Kansas on Friday raided the Marion County Record newspaper and its publisher’s house, raising concerns over freedom of the press in the United States.

Not only did law enforcement officers search the newspaper’s office, but in seizing the computers, server, cell phone of a reporter, and back-up hard drive, the raid essentially shut down the newspaper. The Marion County Record said Friday this is, "reminiscent of what occurs in totalitarian regimes and the Third World." 

The raid appears to violate federal law as well as the Constitution. From the Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press: "The federal Privacy Protection Act states that it is unlawful for the government, “in connection with [an] investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense,” to search for or seize “any work product materials possessed by a person reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, or broadcast...."

The seized equipment from the Kansas paper included legal notices and advertisements that are supposed to be published Wednesday. 

According to the Wichita Eagle and Kansas City Star editorial boards, "Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody reinjured a dislocated finger of Record reporter Deb Gruver — a former Wichita Eagle reporter — when he personally snatched her cellphone from her hand during the raid.” The editorial boards called it an "intolerable overreach by police."

Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody replied on social media, "The Marion Kansas Police Department has several inquiries regarding an ongoing investigation. As much as I would like to give everyone details on a criminal investigation I cannot.”

According to the Police Chief, “I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated… The victim asks that we do all the law allows to ensure justice is served.”

Why was the newspaper raided?

The controversy stems from leaked information regarding the drunk driving conviction and alleged driving on a suspended license of restaurant owner Kari Newell, who owns and operates a growing, successful small business in a picturesque historic part of downtown Marion, Kansas.

The information began to come to light after she held a reception for Congressman Jake LaTurner at her restaurant, which is applying for a liquor license. A drunk driving conviction and/or driving on a suspended license could easily doom her application to legally serve liquor at her restaurant or handle catering gigs.

There is speculation the incriminating information may have been leaked from Newell’s estranged husband, and/or verified from public records which require one to affirm that the request is only for “personal use."

Seth Stern, Director of Advocacy for Freedom of the Press Foundation, lambasted the raid, and stated, “there is nothing illegal about obtaining or verifying a tip from a source.”

The search warrant claims Newell’s identity may have been stolen in the Marion County Record receiving the information. The warrant was signed by newly installed Judge Laura Viar, who began her duties as Marion County District Court Magistrate earlier this year.

Newell blasted the Marion County Record, based on information allegedly provided to her by police, and it appears that only then did the debacle become public. The newspaper disputed her statement in a published rebuttal.

The F.B.I. began an investigation Tuesday August 8, into criminal wrongdoing in Marion, according to Melissa Underwood, communications director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, reports the Kansas Reflector.

What happened to co-owner Joan Meyer? 

On Friday,the son of the newspaper’s 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Myer, wrote concerns over her health because she was unable to use her Alexa device after its computer and router were seized by police, as she has watched on tearfully. Unable to eat or sleep Friday night, and unable to summon help on Alexa, Meyer collapsed in her home and died Saturday afternoon, according to an article that appeared in the newspaper’s pre-print online edition.

What are defenders of the Marion County Record saying?

John Galer, chair of the National Newspaper Association (NNA) and publisher of the Journal-News (Hillsboro, Illinois), Friday night demanded the Kansas newspaper’s property be immediately returned.

In a response to an East County Magazine request for comment, a statement by Galer reads, “Newsroom raids in this country receded into history 50 years ago. Today, law enforcement agencies by and large understand that gathering information from newsrooms is a last resort and then done only with subpoenas that protect the rights of all involved."

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Journalists can be subpoenaed, but not compelled, to reveal their sources, except, arguably, in the rarest circumstances such as to solve a murder. Some states, such as California has even gone so far as to issue a Shield Law to protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources, except in extreme circumstances. A Kansas shield law provides that journalists cannot be compelled to disclose sources of information, except in designated circumstances, such as if disclosure would prevent death or serious harm.

Court Cases throughout the Country have consistently, at least for the last half century, affirmed this right to protect one's sources as Constitutional freedom inherent to the Press in these United States. However, such a case has not yet been brought to Kansas. 

According to Galer, "For a newspaper to be intimidated by an unannounced search and seizure is unthinkable in an America that respects its First Amendment rights. [The National Newspaper Association] stands by its community newspapers and calls upon top officials in Kansas to immediately return any property seized by law enforcement so the newspaper can proceed with its work."

Unfortunately for Meyer, it will be too little, too late. Her son, co-owner and publisher of the paper, Eric Meyer, states his biggest concern is preventing other journalistic entities from being subjected to such "Gestapo tactics," and getting the paper out Tuesday in the midst of inordinate obstacles.

Emily Bradbury, Executive Director of the Kansas Press Association said, “Journalists are the watchdogs right of government and we like to think we hold government accountable and not just for ourselves but for our communities,” reported Joe Baker of KWCH 12 News on Saturday.

Bradbury concluded, “There is a group of people standing beside the Marion County Record; they’re not going to be alone in this. This isn’t over. We’re going to try to hold those responsible for this action accountable and make sure people know this is something that won’t be tolerated.”

Image icon Joan Meyer Garden3.55 MB
Image icon Red Newspaper Stand2.11 MB
Image icon Marion County Record3.34 MB

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Ongoing developments on the Marion County Record as of August 16


- a lot of community members don't like the paper (they say it's like a Tabloid, but even the National Enquirer has rights)

- the Police Chief used prior restraint to silence detractors to an investigation into HIMSELF?

- more Journalists organizations come out in support of the Marion County Record!

- will the Kansas Bureu of Investigations take up the case??