Kansas editor says paper questioned police chief before newsroom raid: NPR

Eric Meyer, publisher of the Marion County (Kansas) Register, spoke to a British radio station today about a raid on his newspaper’s offices and his home by local police.

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Eric Meyer, publisher of the Marion County (Kansas) Register, spoke to a British radio station today about a raid on his newspaper’s offices and his home by local police.

John Hanna/AP

A small-town Kansas newspaper was raided by police on Friday, investigating allegations of misconduct against a local leader months ago, according to the paper’s publisher, raising further concerns about the motives of law enforcement officials.

The Marion, Kansas police department seized computers, cell phones and other reporting materials from the office. Marion County record – The only local paper in a small town of about 2,000 residents. Officers spent hours in the newsroom. It also seized items from one of its journalist’s houses. Eric Meyer, the newspaper’s publisher and co-owner, said his 98-year-old mother died the day after police raided her home, where Meyer was staying at the time. He believes the stress of the ordeal contributed to his death.

The raids sparked coast-to-coast outrage among journalists and free-speech advocates. Objection letter Signed New York Times, Washington PostCNN and Wall Street Journalamong others.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has said for years that those in power – government officials – should enjoy a free press,” says Sandy Baniski, an attorney and former senior lecturer who taught media law at the University of Maryland’s journalism school. at Baltimore Sun. “Incidents like this must be thoroughly investigated and exposed to ensure that a raid like the one in Marion, Kansas, does not happen across the country.”

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Marion County record According to the mayor, Police Chief Gideon conducted “routine background checks” ahead of Cody’s start date. When the paper ran a story about Cody’s candidacy for police chief, the mayor said he received anonymous tips from several of his former colleagues alleging misconduct.

Police chief “there’s a reason they don’t like us”

Cody took over as Marion’s police chief on June 1 after retiring from the Kansas City Police Department in late April, the department said. Employee Pension Website.

“It’s alarming, to say the least, given the number of people who have come forward and the seriousness of some of the allegations they’ve made,” the mayor said. “We were simply looking at the question.”

The police chief knew the paper was investigating his background. Mayor said a Register The reporter reached out to Cody for comment on the allegations. In response, the mayor said Cody threatened to sue the paper.

NPR reached out to Cody, who declined to confirm whether he had threatened to sue the paper or whether the raid was connected to the newsroom’s report on his background.

The mayor said the police chief “had reason not to like us,” but insisted he didn’t know if there was a connection between his paper report and the raid.

Any connections between Register’s reporters and code officials stored on computers seized during the raid, the mayor added. The newsroom does not currently have access to these documents.

“We can’t consult our source material,” Meyer said. “It was taken away from us.”

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Erosion of police transparency

Before Cody became police chief, the Marion Police Department maintained a decades-old practice of publishing a list of the department’s regular activities each week, the mayor said. achievement The list will be published in its weekly edition, detailing common areas where officers have investigated or responded to complaints.

But that practice came to an abrupt halt when Cody took over as head of the department, according to the mayor.

“He cited privacy reasons,” the mayor said. “60 years ago, this was a regular feature of the paper.”

Cody did not respond to a request for comment on the change in department policy.

A search warrant also raises red flags

District Magistrate Judge Laura Viar signed a search warrant Friday morning, authorizing the Marion Police Department to conduct the search. Register. The warrant cites “identity theft” by a local restaurant owner as the reason for the raid.

On Friday, after the test, the Register Access was requested from the Marion County District Court to a probable cause affidavit — a document outlining a judge’s reason for authorizing the test.

But the court’s written response, reviewed by NPR, indicates the document does not exist.

“Because a probable cause affidavit has not been filed, this court cannot respond to this request,” Judge Viar wrote in response to a request from the newsroom.

Cody argued in a statement to NPR that it was legal because it was an exception to the federal Privacy Protection Act, which broadly prohibits law enforcement from seeking or seizing information from reporters.

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“In most cases it is true, [the Privacy Protection Act] Police are required to use subpoenas instead of search warrants to search journalists’ premises unless they themselves are suspected of the crime subject to the search,” Cody said.

But there’s a broad consensus among media advocates that the police’s legal rationale isn’t upheld because the charges relate to news gathering — which is protected by federal law.

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