The co-owner and publisher of a Kansas newspaper told CNN Wednesday that the seized items will be returned and forensically examined after a national controversy involving raids on a small-town newspaper’s office and publisher’s home.
Bernie Rhodes, attorney for the Marion County Record, told CNN the local attorney had agreed to withdraw the search warrant executed Friday and return all seized items in response to demands from press freedom advocates who strongly condemned the police action.
Publisher Eric Meyer believes Friday’s raid in Marion, about 60 miles north of Wichita, was prompted by a story published Wednesday about local business owner Gary Newell. But authorities said in a search warrant they were investigating what they called “identity theft.”
Computers, cellphones and other items were seized during a search of Marion County records, the mayor confirmed to CNN.
One of Meyer’s reporters returned the seized equipment and is now on his way to Kansas City, where a forensics examiner said “nothing was done to them,” Meyer told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” Wednesday. .
Marion County Prosecutor Joel Enzi released a statement explaining why he asked for the seized items to be returned.
“On Monday, August 14, 2023, I conducted a detailed review of warrant applications made on Friday, August 11, 2023, to search various locations in Marion County, including the Marion County Recorder’s Office,” Ense said.
“The affidavits I am requesting the court release establish probable cause to believe that an employee of the newspaper may have committed … unlawful acts involving computers. However, upon further review, there is insufficient evidence to establish a legally sufficient connection between this crime and the locations searched and the items seized.” I have come to a conclusion,” said the lawyer.
“Consequently, I have submitted a proposed order requesting the court to release the seized evidence. I have asked local law enforcement officials to return the seized items to the property owners.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation plans to continue its investigation “independently” and “once our investigation is complete, we will review the findings with the Marion County Prosecutor,” bureau spokeswoman Melissa Underwood said in a statement.
Meyer’s mother — Marion County Record co-owner Joan Meyer — died Saturday, the day after police raided the home she shared with her son. Eric Meyer said he believed stress from the raid was a factor in his mother’s death.
“One good thing is that the support of the public and the support of news organizations and press organizations will almost vindicate her. I think she will feel good about that,” Eric Meyer told CNN on Wednesday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the raids on the newspaper’s office and Meyers’ home “raise a lot of concerns and a lot of questions” for the Biden administration.
Jean-Pierre said he had not spoken to the president about the case, but that the White House was aware of it.
“More broadly, it’s important for me and here and for the president … to reiterate, as we’ve done many times before, that freedom of the press is a core value when we think about our democracy,” Jean-Pierre said. “When you think about the cornerstone of our democracy, freedom of the press is right up there. That is our core value.”
Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom group, said on Wednesday it welcomed the decision.
“But we still need answers to how this happened,” said Clayton Weimers, managing director of the group’s US bureau. “Law enforcement cannot simply raid media organizations at will.”
Earlier this month, the mayor said he was at Caris Kitchen — a coffee shop run by Newell — for a public meeting with U.S. Rep. Jake Lauderner, the Republican who represents the area.
Even though it was a public meet-and-greet event, the mayor asked her and her reporter, Phyllis Zorn, to leave.
“I was standing in line for a drink at the coffee shop we were at and the police chief came up to us and said you’ve been asked to leave by the coffee shop owner,” said the mayor. “He said we don’t want the media here, so they kicked us out.”
CNN notified Lauderner’s office of the situation.
The mayor said Zorn received a tip about Newell allegedly driving without a valid driver’s license after a 2008 traffic violation.
Newell confirmed to CNN that he believes he asked the mayor and his reporter to leave the event because he believes the newspaper “has a long-standing reputation for distorting and distorting opinions in our community.”
“When they came into the establishment, I calmly and politely asked them to leave,” Newell said. “I don’t feel their constituencies should be exposed to any risk of being misrepresented.”
Newell said the Marion County Record illegally used his credentials to obtain information available only to law enforcement, private investigators and insurance companies. “Not only did they have illegal information to obtain the way they did, but they also transmitted it,” he added.
He said the Marion County Record’s publication of the article was “definitely malicious and vindictive in asking him to leave my establishment.”
Newell said he was out of state when he learned of Friday’s raid and told CNN he was “stunned” and “didn’t know it was coming.”
Meyer said he had earlier visited the office, where law enforcement officials seized a file server, a backup drive for the file server, Meyer’s computer, and the computers and phones of two other reporters.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, not in America,” the mayor said. “It was a nuclear flyswatter. They wanted to attack us and they tried to do so.
Mayer told CNN on Wednesday that the raid had “a hint of intimidation and attempted intimidation.”
“There has to be a clear line that this is not allowed,” he said.
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