Local police searched a small-town newspaper’s office and staff members’ residences this week, taking documents related to possible identity theft crimes. The incident raised First Amendment concerns on a national level.
According to CNN, a search warrant issued by the Marion County Courts Magistrate Judge Laura Viar this week names Marion County Record, a family-owned weekly newspaper published in the midwestern state about 60 miles north of Wichita, and alleges violations of identity theft as well as “illegal acts concerning computers.”
Four Marion law enforcement officers along with three sheriff’s deputies according to reports seized private mobile phones, computers, and various other materials at Eric Meyer’s residence as well as the Marion County Record office, which included some unrelated equipment required for publication. Meyer is the co-owner as well as publisher of the newspaper established in the small town of Marion over 150 years ago.
“The ability to publish next week remains our top goal,” Meyer added. “But we also want to ensure that no other journalistic organization ever comes into contact with the Gestapo methods we saw today.”
In a posting to Facebook, reporter Deb Gruver claimed she actually had filed an incident report directly with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation accusing Marion, Kansas Chief of Police Gideon Cody of further injuring an already fractured finger after he reportedly “forcibly yanked” her mobile phone out of her hand.
Gruver said, “I assumed I resided in the United States.”
Authorities also investigated the house of the company’s 98-year-old co-owner Joan Meyer, who passed away barely a day later after collapsing from several hours of “shock and grief” that prevented her from eating and led her to lose sleep, according to the newspaper.
According to the search warrant cited by The Epoch Times, the judge gave police permission to take records pertaining to Kari Newell, a local business owner who owns a coffee shop, who was accused of identity theft. According to a tip sent to the newspaper, Newell allegedly operates a vehicle without a current driver’s license as a result of a traffic infraction from 2008.
Despite having a reporter confirm the facts, Meyer told the local media that he had made the decision not to run the article. Instead, he called the police because he believed he had been set up by an unidentified source. When police got in touch with Newell, she allegedly claimed at a city council session that the Record had obtained and unlawfully shared personal data that was only accessible to law enforcement, private detectives, and insurance companies.
Less than 24 hours prior to the police executing the search warrant, Meyer wrote an essay outlining the timing of events.
According to Newell, who spoke to CNN, the publication published the article “strictly based on malice and also retribution for me requesting him to leave my establishment” and added that “not only did they possess information that would have been illegal for them to acquire in the way in which they had done, but they sent it to press as well.”
Newell told the NY Times that instead of using its First Amendment rights, the Record had violated her privacy.
“Between spiteful and vindication, there is a significant distinction,” according to Newell. “I’m convinced that this was a cunning, vengeful maneuver. I also hope that I am ultimately vindicated.”