FORUM: Raid on newspaper never should have happened

Oct 1, 2023

The Aug. 11 police raid on the weekly newspaper in Marion, Kansas, was so wrong it should never have been imagined.

Owner | Haynes Publishing Co., Oberlin, Kansas

The Aug. 11 police raid on the weekly newspaper in Marion, Kansas, was so wrong it should never have been imagined.

Those involved will pay the price, and so unfortunately will the town of Marion, population about 1,700, the mention of which will recall this illegal and unconstitutional transgression for some time.

It's unlikely that anyone involved — the police chief who led the invasion of the newspaper, the publisher's home and the vice mayor's residence; the magistrate judge who signed the bogus warrant; anyone in city government who backed the idea; the restaurant owner who complained that her privacy rights had been violated — will have their jobs within six months.

If you haven't read about it, police stormed into the newspaper, seizing computers and the central file server, even taking reporters' cellphones and rifling through papers. That violated not only the newspaper's First Amendment rights under the Constitution, but also possibly federal and state laws meant to prevent such oppression by police.

Under those laws, apparently unknown to the Marion police chief or to the judge who signed the warrant, the chief should have sought a subpoena for the newspaper's records, which would have allowed the publisher to protest the demand. A judge would have decided who was right.

Instead, a magistrate judge just approved the warrant, and the cops crashed right in. Videos posted online show what happened. If you haven't seen it, the recording from the publisher's home — which he shared with his 98-year-old mother — is most revealing.

Joan Meyer, co-owner and publisher of the Marion Record, tried to stop the raid and cursed the police, including Chief Gideon Cody.

“Get out of my house," she shouted, according to the Associated Press. "I don’t want you in my house!”

“Don’t touch any of that stuff! This is my house!” she said at another point, referring to the chief as "an asshole."

The invasion apparently so upset her that she died the next day.

Beyond an investigation of how the newspaper or its protected source obtained the restaurant owner's driving records — she admitted later at a City Council meeting that she had been convicted of driving under the influence and then continued to drive though her license was suspended — the raid seemed designed to shut down and silence the Record.

By taking both the reporters' computers and the server, the police left the staff with no access to any stories, photos or ads for the next edition. They managed to recreate most of it, however, and produced front page led by the headline, "Seized but not silenced."

The paper already had clashed with the new police chief and had been investigating his departure from a $110,000-a-year job as a police captain in Kansas City to one in Marion, which paid more like $61,000. The Kansas City Star later learned he had been accused of sexual misconduct, which the police allegedly had substantiated, and he had reportedly been told he faced demotion to sergeant and assignment to late-night patrol duty.

All this smells of a small-town cabal based in a bar where rights meant little. Even the judge who signed the warrant, it was learned, had a record for DUI, and when the county attorney later read the warrant, he said it was groundless and ordered the computers returned. They were, the next day.

By then, however, many charged that the chief probably had learned the newspaper's source, what the paper had learned about him and the sources, and much more.

Although this attempt to silence a newspaper failed, it did great harm to Publisher Eric Meyer and his family, the paper and its staff. It's frightening. It should never have happened, but the tyrants of Marion have no idea even yet the furor they have unleashed.