One columnist said that “it is not hyperbole to say that this attack on the people’s right to know appears to have killed” 98-year-old Joan Meyer.
Advocacy groups and reporters across the United States have sounded the alarm throughout the weekend about a legally dubious police raid on Friday targeting the Marion County Record office and the publisher’s Kansas home in an alleged identity theft investigation—events that the newspaper said contributed to the death of the elderly co-owner.
“Stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief after illegal police raids on her home and the Marion County Record newspaper office Friday, 98-year-old newspaper co-owner Joan Meyer, otherwise in good health for her age, collapsed Saturday afternoon and died at her home,” the outlet reported.
Joan Meyer lived with her son, Eric Meyer, the Record‘s co-owner and publisher. According to the newspaper:
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.
Joan Meyer’s ability to stream TV shows at her home and to get help through her Alexa smart speakers were taken away with the electronics.
Joan Meyer “died in the line of duty,” Kansas City Star columnist Melinda Henneberger wrote Sunday. “It is not hyperbole to say that this attack on the people’s right to know appears to have killed her.”
Henneberger highlighted that Joan Meyer had responded to the raid by referencing German dictator Adolf Hitler, telling The Wichita Eagle that “these are Hitler tactics and something has to be done.”
Lock all those bastards up in their own jail. Jesus Christ, we don't need fascism from the top down. We have it on the ground all over the place. https://t.co/y8dROG9Ufk— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) August 13, 2023
Eric Meyer told the Kansas Reflector that the city of Marion’s five police officers and two sheriff’s deputies forced took “everything we have” in a “chilling” raid motivated by a confidential source leaking to the paper evidence that Kari Newell—a local restauranteur who was trying to obtain a liquor license—had been convicted of drunken driving but continued using a vehicle without a driver’s license.
“Basically,” he said, “all the law enforcement officers on duty in Marion County, Kansas, descended on our offices today and seized our server and computers and personal cellphones of staff members all because of a story we didn’t publish.”
The Reflector explained Friday that the search warrant appears to violate a federal law intended to protect journalists and the Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, who signed it, did not respond to a request for comment.
As the newspaper noted Saturday:
The Marion Police Department, in a statement posted Saturday on the department’s Facebook page, acknowledged that the federal Privacy Protection Act protects journalists from searches. However, the department argued, the law doesn’t apply when journalists are suspected of criminal activity.
Newell declined to answer questions for this story but pointed to a statement she issued Saturday on her personal Facebook page. She said someone had used a piece of mail addressed to her from the Kansas Department of Revenue to obtain her driver’s license number and date of birth. That information was then used to find her driver’s license history through KDOR’s website.
The Record itself confirmed that the paper, whose staff was forced to stay outside for hours during a heat advisory, “is expected to file a federal suit against the city of Marion and those involved in the search, which legal experts contacted were unanimous in saying violated multiple state and federal laws, including the U.S. Constitution, and multiple court rulings.”
“Our first priority is to be able to publish next week,” said Eric Meyer, “but we also want to make sure no other news organization is ever exposed to the Gestapo tactics we witnessed today. We will be seeking the maximum sanctions possible under law.”
Across the state and beyond, journalists and advocates have been quick to weigh in—including former students of Eric Meyer, who was a journalism professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for over two decades:
Marion County Record publisher Eric Meyer was one of my journalism professors at U of I. Police apparently raised his home in addition to the newspaper’s offices, where “the city’s entire five-officer police force and two sheriff’s deputies took everything…” Wild abuse of power! https://t.co/54jruJ4Hjj— Hannah Meisel (@hannahmeisel) August 12, 2023
Omg that’s my former journalism prof from U of I, publisher of the Marion County Record, Eric Meyer!— Taylor Goldenstein (@taygoldenstein) August 12, 2023
His small town’s “entire five-officer police force and two sheriff’s deputies” raided his newspaper offices and home all bc they got a tip they DIDN’T EVEN USE!! No subpoenas 👀 https://t.co/LIgtOxvP7S
“Based on the reporting so far, the police raid of the Marion County Record on Friday appears to have violated federal law, the First Amendment, and basic human decency. Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves,” Freedom of the Press Foundation director of advocacy Seth Stern said in a statement Saturday.
“This looks like the latest example of American law enforcement officers treating the press in a manner previously associated with authoritarian regimes,” he added. “The anti-press rhetoric that’s become so pervasive in this country has become more than just talk and is creating a dangerous environment for journalists trying to do their jobs.”
Noting Eric Meyer’s warning that the raid is “going to have a chilling effect on us even tackling issues” and “on people giving us information,” Kansas Reflector opinion editor Clay Wirestone wrote Saturday that “no matter how the story shakes out—if officials return all the seized computers and cellphones this afternoon—a message has been sent. That message conflicts with the tenets of an open society. It conflicts with free expression. It shuts down the ability of democracy’s defenders to do their jobs, informing and educating the public.”
WTF? There are many stunning details in The Marion County Record's own story about how local police carried out a raid on the newspaper, but the total abuse of power displayed at the home the publisher shares with his elderly mother is painful to readhttps://t.co/OSzD7w1Pto pic.twitter.com/OdxNjOkAbG— Anita Wadhwani (@anitawadhwani) August 12, 2023
Kansas Press Association executive director Emily Bradbury said that “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. This cannot be allowed to stand.”
PEN America’s journalism and disinformation program director, Shannon Jankowski, similarly said that “such egregious attempts to interfere with news reporting cannot go unchecked in a democracy. Law enforcement can, and should, be held accountable for any violations of the Record‘s legal rights.”
Sending love and condolences to the Marion County Record. This outrage cannot stand. https://t.co/9jvteBOPcQ— Gregory Pratt (@royalpratt) August 13, 2023
The president of the National Press Club and its Journalism Institute, Eileen O’Reilly and Gil Klein, also demanded accountability, saying that “we are shocked and outraged by this brazen violation of press freedom by authorities in Marion County, Kansas.”
“A law enforcement raid of a newspaper office is deeply upsetting anywhere in the world. It is especially concerning in the United States, where we have strong and well-established legal protections guaranteeing the freedom of the press,” they continued. “We demand local authorities return the reporting equipment to the Marion County Record immediately, and we expect a full investigation by appropriate state and federal authorities into why this search warrant was requested, authorized, and executed.”
This story is insane and the Marion County Kansas police department must be held accountable.— Paul W. Gillespie (@pwgphoto) August 12, 2023
This was done to shut down this paper and nothing else.
The restaurant owners DUI should have been public record anyway. https://t.co/9GQAj9Su6w
Committee to Protect Journalists president Jodie Ginsberg echoed calls for investigations into the members of law enforcement and the judiciary behind the “deeply disturbing” raid.
“Local news providers are essential in holding power to account—and they must be able to report freely, without fear of authorities’ overreach,” Ginsberg said. “This kind of action by police—which we sadly see with growing frequency worldwide—has a chilling effect on journalism and on democracy more broadly.”
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