Over the past 24 hours there have been some stunning new developments in the case of the Marion County Record, whose office was raided by police Friday. Also targeted were the homes of publisher Eric Meyer and a vice mayor.
• Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, who was home when police burst in home on Friday, collapsed and died Saturday afternoon, possibly as a result of stress stemming from the raid. Joan Meyer was the co-owner of the Record, which reports:
She had not been able to eat after police showed up at the door of her home Friday with a search warrant in hand. Neither was she able to sleep Friday night.
She tearfully watched during the raid as police not only carted away her computer and a router used by an Alexa smart speaker but also dug through her son Eric’s personal bank and investments statements to photograph them. Electronic cords were left in a jumbled pile on her floor.
• Initial reporting by the nonprofit Kansas Reflector suggested that the raid was somehow tied to a case involving documents provided by an anonymous source with regard to a local caterer who lacked a driver’s license and who had been convicted of drunken driving. But now it appears there may have been more — much more — behind the raid. Maria Kabas, who writes a newsletter called The Handbasket, interviewed Eric Meyer on Friday and writes:
What has remained unreported until now is that, prior to the raids, the newspaper had been actively investigating Gideon Cody, Chief of Police for the city of Marion. They’d received multiple tips alleging he’d retired from his previous job to avoid demotion and punishment over alleged sexual misconduct charges.
• The Marion County Police Department is defending its actions, according to Sherman Smith of the Kansas Reflector. Citing a post on the department’s Facebook page, Smith reports that the department acknowledges its actions were prohibited by the federal Privacy Protection Act — but that the department is claiming an exception to the law because the newspaper itself was suspected of committing a crime. Under the law, police need a subpoena, not just a search warrant, to confiscate materials from journalists. Smith’s story includes this:
“It appears like the police department is trying to criminalize protected speech in an attempt to sidestep federal law,” said Jared McClain, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm.
“The First Amendment ensures that publications like the Marion County Record can investigate public officials without fear of reprisal,” McClain said. “It chills the important function of journalism when police raid a newsroom, storm the homes of reporters, seize their property and gain access to their confidential sources. That’s precisely why we must hold accountable officers who retaliate against people who exercise their First Amendment rights.”
This shocking abridgment of the First Amendment has not yet quite broken through to the mainstream. Although CNN and USA Today have both reported on it, The New York Times and The Washington Post have not. I’d be surprised if they’re not working on stories right now. Heather Cox Richardson, in her Letters from an American newsletter, has a solid overview and relates it to the destruction of antislavery editor Elijah Lovejoy’s presses — and his ultimate assassination — in 1837.
What is unfolding in Kansas is one of the most nauseating attacks on freedom of the press that I’ve seen in my lifetime. Every officer involved, as well as the police chief and any officials who ordered the raid, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Charges in the death of Joan Meyer should be considered as well. And since the police appear to have violated federal law, Attorney General Merrick Garland needs to pay a visit as soon as he can manage to buy a plane ticket.
- Nobel winner weighs in on a shocking police raid against a newspaper: “It’s happening to you now” (Aug. 12)