A recent police raid on the premises of the Marion County Record, a small family-owned newspaper in Kansas, has raised significant questions about the state of free press in the region. During the raid, law enforcement officials seized computers, servers, and cell phones belonging to reporters and editors. Additionally, the home of Eric Meyer, the publisher and co-owner of the newspaper, was also searched.
Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey explained that authorities were acting based on suspicions of a potential computer-based crime committed by an employee of the newspaper. This suspicion stems from a dispute involving government records, which was set in motion after a local meet-and-greet event for Congressman Jake LaTurner that took place on August 2nd. The event, held at Kari's Kitchen, owned by local restaurateur Kari Newell, resulted in the police chief being asked to remove two individuals—Mr. Meyer and reporter Phyllis Zorn—from the premises at Kari Newell's request.
Subsequent to the meet-and-greet, the newspaper published an article detailing the incident. Following the publication, reporter Phyllis Zorn received a private Facebook message containing a letter addressed to Kari Newell from the Kansas Department of Revenue. This letter outlined steps for Ms. Newell to reinstate her driver's license, which had been suspended due to a DUI citation in 2008.
In the days following, Kari Newell attended a City Council meeting in pursuit of approval to establish a liquor-serving establishment. During this meeting, she accused the newspaper of acquiring the letter in question unlawfully and of subsequently passing it on to Councilwoman Ruth Herbel. As a result, law enforcement searched Ruth Herbel's residence as well.
This incident stands as just one among several recent occurrences where local law enforcement has taken forceful actions against news organizations. For instance, Los Angeles Times reporters Brittny Mejia and Libor Jany were investigating the detonation of seized fireworks by the Los Angeles police bomb squad in June 2021. After their engagement with officers involved in the incident, the police union disseminated photographs of the journalists to thousands of its members, accusing them of stalking officers to their homes.
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