By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Kansas

Kansas newspaper publisher’s 98-year-old mother dies after police raid her home

Marion County Courthouse. Photo (cc) 2009 by Spacini.

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.


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Nobel winner weighs in on a shocking police raid against a newspaper: ‘It’s happening to you now’

Eric Meyer. Photo (cc) by Sam Bailey / Kansas Reflector

How stunningly authoritarian was a police raid on a newspaper office in Marion, Kansas? Here’s an indication: When independent media reporter Brian Stelter posted about it Friday night on the Platform Formerly Known as Twitter, among those responding was Maria Ressa, the Filipino journalist who won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous resistance to her own country’s authoritarian regime.

“It’s happening to you now … death by a thousand cuts,” she wrote.

The shocking raid, conducted Friday afternoon, was aimed at seizing computers, cellphones and other materials from the Marion County Record, whose owner and publisher, Eric Meyer, is a former journalist for the Milwaukee Journal and a former journalism professor at the University of Illinois. According to the Kansas Reflector, a nonprofit news outlet, the police action threatened Meyer’s ability to publish his paper — which, after all, may have been the point.

Meyer told the Reflector that the authorities were trying to send him a message: “Mind your own business or we’re going to step on you.”

What’s especially weird about all of this is that involved a rather quotidian matter. The Reflector has been reporting on a restaurant owner who did not have a driver’s license and had been convicted of drunken driving, thus threatening her catering business. According to the Record’s own coverage of the raid, officers descended on the Record’s office as well as Meyer’s home, where they seized technology used by his 98-year-old mother to watch television and photographed Eric Meyer’s personal financial documents. The home of a vice mayor was targeted as well.

The Reflector’s journalism is licensed under Creative Commons, and news outlets are free to republish it. Below is the full story:

Police stage ‘chilling’ raid on Marion County newspaper, seizing computers, records and cellphones

By Sherman Smith, Sam Bailey, Rachel Mipro and Tim Carpenter | Aug. 11, 4:15 p.m.

MARION — In an unprecedented raid Friday, local law enforcement seized computers, cellphones and reporting materials from the Marion County Record office, the newspaper’s reporters, and the publisher’s home.

Eric Meyer, owner and publisher of the newspaper, said police were motivated by a confidential source who leaked sensitive documents to the newspaper, and the message was clear: “Mind your own business or we’re going to step on you.”

The city’s entire five-officer police force and two sheriff’s deputies took “everything we have,” Meyer said, and it wasn’t clear how the newspaper staff would take the weekly publication to press Tuesday night.

The raid followed news stories about a restaurant owner who kicked reporters out of a meeting last week with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, and revelations about the restaurant owner’s lack of a driver’s license and conviction for drunken driving.

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