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The district attorney in Kansas’ Marion County has withdrawn a series of controversial – one of them deadly – search warrants that targeted a small town newspaper and raised national concerns of a First Amendment violation.
Authorities will return all the items seized to the newspaper, its surviving owner and staff members, according to attorney Bernie Rhodes, who represents the Marion County Record.
“I’ve been told that none of the devices were accessed, but as Ronald Reagan famously said, trust but verify,” Rhodes told Fox News Digital.
To that end, he said a forensic investigator would examine the equipment to make sure no files were accessed unlawfully and to check for other tampering.
LAST WORDS FROM MATRIARCH OF SMALL TOWN PAPER WHO DIED AFTER DUBIOUS POLICE RAID: ‘HITLER TACTICS’
This surveillance video shows Marion Police Department confiscating computers and cellphones from the publisher and staff of the Marion County Record on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023 in Marion, Kansas. The small newspaper and the police department are at the center of a dispute over freedom of speech that is being watched around the country after police raided the office of the local newspaper and the home of its owner and publisher. (Marion County Record via AP)
The paper’s longtime owner Joan Meyer, who bought it with her late husband in 1998 to preserve its local ownership amid a corporate takeover attempt, died the day after the searches, according to a letter posted to the Record’s website last week.
“We have not received an apology,” Rhodes told Fox News Digital. “And clearly, while this is a promising first step, it does nothing to cure the harm caused to the paper’s First Amendment rights by the original illegal search – and, regrettably, it does not bring Joan Meyer back.”
A tribute to the late Marion County Record co-owner Joan Meyer sits outside the newspaper’s office, Monday, Aug. 14, 2023. Meyer died Saturday, Aug. 12, a day after local police raided the home she shares with her son Eric Meyer, editor and publisher of the newspaper, and the company’s offices. Eric Meyer blames his mother’s death on the stress caused by the raids. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey on Wednesday said there was “insufficient evidence” of the alleged crime and that he had asked police to return all seized items.
The raids on Meyer’s home and the Record’s newsroom came after reporters looked into allegations that a local sweets shop owner named Kari Newell allegedly drove a car while her license was suspended for a prior DUI, according to the Record’s version of events. The paper was subsequently accused of identity theft and unlawfully accessing a computer, leading to the confiscation of computers, smartphones and other equipment.
Before the raids, Newell hosted a public forum with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, R-Kan., at her restaurant and allegedly asked police to kick out Meyer’s son, Eric Meyer, and another reporter, Rhodes said Tuesday.
The paper looked into Newell’s DUI but said it never published a story, with editors finding a potential conflict of interest in the source who initially reached out with the information. However, after the raids, the paper revealed that its tipster also alleged that police knew about Newell’s suspended license and let her slide when caught driving anyway.
Publisher Eric Meyer speaks with reporters about the aftermath of a police raid on his newspaper’s office and his home, Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, in Marion County, Kansas. Meyer has fielded offers of help from around the U.S., and the Society of Professional Journalists has pledged $20,000 to the paper’s legal defense. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
A call to Newell’s listed number went unanswered Tuesday, and the voicemail box was full. A text message reply from the number told Fox News Digital there would be “No further comments.”
The Record has announced intentions to file a federal lawsuit against city police, alleging the warrants were unconstitutional. Rhodes said his team was still gathering information ahead of any potential litigation and is still calculating potential damages ranging from damaged or replaced equipment and loss of revenue.
KANSAS POLICE RAID NEWSPAPER’S OFFICE, PUBLISHER’S HOME TO SEIZE RECORDS; REPORTER INJURED
In a letter to the police department, he demanded investigators stop going through the newspaper’s computer files because many of them are protected under Kansas law.
The offices of the Marion County Record, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. Publisher Eric Meyer believes the police raid was an attempt to intimidate the newspaper as it examines local issues, including the police chief’s background. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
“Regardless of whether your search was exempt from the protections of the Privacy Protection Act, it 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,” Rhodes wrote to Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody.
The paper had also reportedly been examining the chief’s recent history in Kansas City, where he served before taking the chief job in Marion.
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Before she died, according to Rhodes, Joan Mayer described the police department’s behavior as “Hitler tactics.”
Chief Cody did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In a prior statement, Marion police said that once they were ready to release more information to the public, “the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated.”
The prosecutor disagreed.
The Marion County Record was founded in 1874 by E.W. Hoch, whose family owned the newspaper for more than a century before Meyer and her husband bought it in 1998 to save it from takeover by a corporate chain, according to the Reflector. Bill Meyer, who died in 2006, had worked with the paper since 1948.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Michael Ruiz is a reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to [email protected] and on Twitter: @mikerreports