Joan Meyer, 98, who co-owned the Marion County Record with her son, Eric Meyer, collapsed and died at her home on Saturday afternoon after the police raid had reportedly left her "stressed beyond her limits."
Eric Meyer, owner and publisher of Marion County Record, said the city’s entire police force raided the paper's office after they allegedly acquired sensitive information from a source about a prominent resident to the newspaper. Police also raided the Meyers' home, seizing both computers and internet routers, as well as taking photographs of Eric's bank statements, according to Kansas Reflector.
Joan Meyer was reportedly "in good health for her age," according to her newspaper that asserted the police's "illegal" decision to raid the Marion County Record contributed to Meyer's death. Ms. Meyer reportedly couldn’t sleep or eat after the raid, which had left her home a mess.
The raid followed after police were reportedly “tipped off” that the newspaper was in possession of evidence which revealed that a prominent local restaurant owner, Kari Newell, had been convicted of drunk driving but continued using her car without a license, according to Kansas Reflector.
Eric Meyer, who taught journalism at the University of Illinois for 26 years, called the raid “chilling” and said it’s the first time he has heard of police raiding a newspaper's office throughout the entirety of his career. Meyer also spent 20 years at the Milwaukee Journal.
"It's going to have a chilling effect on us even tackling issues,” Eric Meyer said after the raid, adding that it will impact “people giving us information."
Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, called the police raid a direct infringement on the protections granted to journalists under the US Constitution.
“An attack on a newspaper office through an illegal search is not just an infringement on the rights of journalists but an assault on the very foundation of democracy and the public’s right to know,” Bradbury said. “This cannot be allowed to stand.”
Meyer alleged that the raid violates federal law which that provides protections against searching and seizing materials from journalists.
Meyer said that the raid violated federal law, which protects journalists from searches and seizures. Law enforcement officers are required to issue subpoenas for the materials, but Meyer said the newspaper didn’t receive any. Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar reportedly signed off on the search warrant, according to Kansas Reflector.
Meyer reported last week that Kari Newell had reportedly kicked out Marion County Record reporters from a public forum that featured Republican US congressman Jake LaTurner.
Meyer's article prompted a nasty response from Newell which he had posted on her personal Facebook page.
Meyer said a confidential source contacted the newspaper and offered information that Newell had been convicted of drunk driving and continued to drive without a license. Her criminal background may affect her attempts to secure a liquor license for her catering company. The source is allegedly Newell’s husband that had recently filed for divorce, according to Kansas Reflector.
Meyer decided not to publish an article about the information they had received, and instead alerted police about Newell’s alleged criminal violation.
After police had received a report from Meyer, officers reportedly notified Newell about the situation. She then publicly complained about the allegations during a city council meeting, which prompted the newspaper to “set the record straight” in an article published on Thursday.
Officers arrived at Meyer's house and the newspaper office on Friday and presented a search warrant alleging identity theft and unauthorized computer use.
The search warrant given to Meyer included a two-page list of items that law enforcement officers had been permitted to seize, which include “computer software and hardware, digital communications, cellular networks, servers and hard drives, password-protected items, utility records, and all documents and records pertaining to Newell,” according to Kansas Reflector.
The warrant specifically stated that any items used to "participate in the identity theft of Kari Newell" are grounds for seizure.
According to Meyer, police injured a reporter's finger after an officer had forcibly snatched her smartphone from her grasp during the raid.
On Friday, Newell confirmed the allegations in a Facebook post under an alias name writing that she had “knowingly operated a vehicle without a license out of necessity” after she had received a DUI in 2008, the outlet reports.
"Journalists have become the dirty politicians of today, twisting narrative for bias agendas, full of muddied half-truths," Newell wrote. "We rarely get facts that aren’t baited with misleading insinuations."
Newell said that the leaked information was “an attempt to smear my name, jeopardize my licensing through ABC (state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division), harm my business, seek retaliation, and for personal leverage in an ongoing domestic court battle.”
The Marion Police Department addressed the incident in a Facebook post on Saturday informing the public that once more information is made available, the department believes that the “judicial system will be vindicated.”
"Speaking in generalities, the federal Privacy Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000aa-2000aa-12, does protect journalists from most searches of newsrooms by federal and state law enforcement officials. It is true that in most cases, it requires police to use subpoenas, rather than search warrants, to search the premises of journalists unless they themselves are suspects in the offense that is the subject of the search,” the department said. “The Act requires criminal investigators to get a subpoena instead of a search warrant when seeking “work product materials” and “documentary materials” from the press, except in circumstances, including: (1) when there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing.”
“The Marion Kansas Police Department believes it is the fundamental duty of the police is to ensure the safety, security, and well-being of all members of the public. This commitment must remain steadfast and unbiased, unaffected by political or media influences, in order to uphold the principles of justice, equal protection, and the rule of law for everyone in the community. The victim asks that we do all the law allows to ensure justice is served,” they wrote.
Eric Meyer bought the Marion County Record in 1998 to prevent the newspaper from being sold to a corporate newspaper chain. Meyers’ father retired from the newspaper, which he had begun working at in 1948, according to Kansas Reflector.
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