Last Friday, the Marion County Police Department, led by Chief Gideon Cody, raided the office of the Marion County Record as well as the home of its co-owner, 98-year-old Joan Meyer, seizing computers, servers, and the cellphones of editors and reporters. Raids like this are common in totalitarian regimes but are all-but-unheard-of in the United States, thanks to strong First and Fourth Amendment protections, as well as laws like the federal Privacy Protection Act of 1980.
But this is more than just a story about a First Amendment outrage — it also is a story about a family tragedy. The day after the raids, Joan Meyer, who otherwise was in good health for her age, collapsed and died, reportedly from the stress caused by having her home ransacked. Her son, Eric Meyer, has been the newspaper's editor and co-owner for 25 years.
What could have prompted such unprecedented overreach against a 4,000-circulation newspaper in a small Kansas town? Were police reacting to some emergency where a person's life was at risk? Hardly.
The search warrant purported to justify the seizures based on alleged violations of state laws related to “identity theft” and “computer misuse.” The information supposedly related to a 2008 drunk driving conviction of local restaurateur Kari Newell. Newell had claimed at a city council meeting, where she was seeking approval for a liquor license, that the newspaper had illegally obtained a letter from the Kansas Department of Revenue that mentioned the drunk driving conviction.
This small-town newspaper has bravely continued to publish despite having its offices trashed, reporters assaulted, and lives disrupted.
Federal law generally requires the police to proceed using a subpoena, rather than a search warrant, when it seeks information from a reporter or news organization, precisely to prevent the type of raids that took place in Marion on Friday. That procedure enables the newspaper to challenge the demand in court before having to comply. While the law contains some narrow exceptions that permit searches in some extraordinary circumstances, none apply in this case.
This small-town newspaper has bravely continued to publish despite having its offices trashed, reporters assaulted, and lives disrupted. Sadly, nothing can bring back Joan Meyer. But those responsible can — and should — be held accountable for their actions.
On today's free speech news roundup, we discuss the recent NetChoice oral argument, Taylor Swift, doxxing, October 7 fallout on campus, and Satan in Iowa. Joining us on the show are Alex Morey, FIRE director of Campus Rights Advocacy; Aaron...