A central Kansas police force is under constitutional criticism after a newspaper raid

Marion, Kan. (AP) — A small newspaper and its police department in Kansas are at the center of a controversy over free speech that is being watched nationwide after police raided the local newspaper’s office and its owner’s home. and publisher.

Marion Police Department officers seized computers and cell phones in Friday’s raid, prompting press freedom watchdog groups to denounce the actions by local authorities as a flagrant violation of the U.S. Constitution’s freedom protections. Eric Meyer, editor and publisher of the Marion County Record, worked with his staff Sunday to reconstruct stories, ads and other material for its next edition Wednesday.

The Friday morning raids, led by Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, stemmed from a dispute between the newspaper and local restaurant owner Kari Newell. He accused the newspaper of invading his privacy and illegally accessing information about him, and suggested the newspaper targeted him after he kicked the mayor and a reporter out of his restaurant during a political event.

While the mayor looked at Newell’s complaints — which he said were false — that prompted the raids, he believes the newspaper’s aggressive coverage of local politics and issues played a role. He said the newspaper is also looking into Cody’s past work with the Kansas City, Missouri, police.

“You know, Vladimir Putin does it, Third World dictators do it,” the mayor said during an interview in his office. “It was a Gestapo tactic of World War II.”

Cody said the raid on Sunday was lawful and tied to the investigation.

The raids took place in a town of about 1,900 people nestled among the prairie hills about 150 miles (241 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City, a small weekly newspaper that found itself in the headlines and likely a target for its reporting.

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Last year in New Hampshire, publisher of a weekly magazine The state attorney general’s office accused the state of violating the law He was arrested for posting advertisements for local races without properly marking them as political advertisements. In Las Vegas, former Democratic elected official Robert Telles is scheduled to stand trial in November on charges of murder. Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German After German wrote articles critical of Telles and his administrative behavior.

On Friday, the mayor said Cody injured his finger when a Record reporter grabbed his cellphone. The newspaper’s surveillance video showed officers reading the reporter his rights as Cody watched, and he was not arrested or detained. As the search continued for more than 90 minutes, newspaper staff left the building.

Meanwhile, the police simultaneously raided his home, seizing computers, his cell phone and the home’s internet router.

But as the mayor fielded messages from reporters and editors as far away as London and reviewed footage from the newsroom’s surveillance camera, he said Newell was receiving death threats from afar. She said the record was engaging in “tabloid trash reporting” and was trying to silence her.

“I fully believe the intent was to do harm and tarnish my reputation, and if it had been left at that, I don’t think it would have exploded,” Newell said. Telephone interview.

Newell said he kicked the mayor and the Record reporter out of the event Republican U.S. Representative Jack Lauderon At the request of others upset by the “poison” newspaper. On the town’s main street, a storefront had a hand-made “Support Marian PD” sign.”

The Inspector General of Police and other officials attended and acknowledged the reception, and the Marianna Police Department highlighted the event on its Facebook page.

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Lauderner’s office did not immediately return phone messages Sunday seeking comment at his Washington and district offices.

Newell said he believes the newspaper broke the law to obtain his personal information by checking the status of his driver’s license following a 2008 drunken-driving conviction and other violations.

The newspaper countered that it had received unsolicited information, which it verified through public online records. It ultimately decided not to run the story because it wasn’t sure whether the source that provided it received it legally. But the newspaper ran a story at the city council meeting in which Newell confirmed he had a DUI conviction and continued to drive after his license was suspended.

A two-page search warrant signed by a local judge lists Newell as the victim of the alleged crimes in the newspaper. When the newspaper asked for a copy of the probable cause affidavit required by law to issue a search warrant, the district court issued a signed statement saying no such affidavit was on file.

Police Chief Cody indicated that probable cause affidavits were used to obtain search warrants. Asked for a copy, Cody responded in an email late Sunday that the affidavits would be available “once charges are filed.”

Cody said in an email to The Associated Press that raiding a newsroom generally requires a subpoena — not just a search warrant — but there is one exception. A fundamental mistake.”

Cody did not provide details on what the charges entail.

Cody, who was hired as Marion’s police chief in late April after 24 years on the Kansas City police force, did not respond to questions about whether police believe Newell was the victim.

Press freedom and civil liberties groups, the police, the local prosecutor’s office and the judge who signed the search warrant said they overstepped their authority.

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“This appears to be one of the most aggressive police raids on a news agency or organization in some time,” said Sharon Brett, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, who called it “an extremely dangerous abuse of power.”

Seth Stern, director of Advocacy for Freedom of the Press, said in a statement that the test appeared to violate federal law, the First Amendment, “and basic human decency.”

“The anti-journalism rhetoric that has become so prevalent in this country has become more than just talk and creates a dangerous environment for journalists trying to do their jobs,” Stern said.

The mayor said he was getting help from press freedom groups and other news organizations. But he said he and his staff need more hours in the day to put together their next version.

Both he and Newell are considering lawsuits — Newell against the newspaper and the public officials who raided the mayor.

The mayor blames the home raid for causing enough stress for his 98-year-old mother to die on Saturday. Joan Mayer co-owned the newspaper.

As for criticism of the raid as a violation of First Amendment rights, Newell said his privacy rights were violated, adding that they are “just as important as anyone else’s.”

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Beck reported from Omaha, Nebraska.

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