Kansas Newspaper Check: Seized items must be returned to the Marion County Registry

Marion County’s top prosecutor told a local newspaper last week that there was insufficient evidence to support the search and that all equipment and items found in the search would be returned.

Joel Enzi, the Marion County prosecutor, said in a statement that there was insufficient evidence to order local law enforcement to return the seized items.

Police officers and county sheriff’s deputies on Friday searched the newspaper’s office, the home of its owner and editor and the home of a city councilwoman — collecting computers, cellphones and other items. It is extremely rare for law enforcement officers in the United States to search and seize press-making equipment.

The searches were part of an investigation into how The Record obtained and handled a document containing information about a local restaurant — and whether the restaurant owner’s privacy was violated in the process. The episode drew national attention to Marion, a town of about 2,000 people located an hour north of Wichita.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, an agency that assists law enforcement statewide, said in a statement that the investigation will continue.

The search generated a backlash from First Amendment experts, who condemned the raid and urged local law enforcement officials to return the journalists’ equipment. On Sunday, the Reporters Group for Freedom of the Press sent a letter to the Marion Police Department expressing concern that the raid violated federal law. The letter was signed by more than 30 newsrooms and press lawyers, including the New York Times.

Joan Mayer, co-owner of the magazine, died Saturday. His son, Eric Meyer, a newspaper publisher, said he was in shock after the ordeal and had trouble sleeping. Mrs. Meyer, 98, refused food and kept asking Mr. Meyer if someone would end the confrontation with the authorities. She died in midlife.

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Mr. Meyer said the coroner concluded that the stress of the search was a factor in his death.

District Attorney Mr. NC was in court on Wednesday and was not available for comment.

The newspaper’s office was searched less than a week after The Record accused local restaurant owner Gary Newell of illegally obtaining a government record of his efforts to reinstate his driver’s license and then sharing it with a city councilwoman.

Mr. Mayor said he and his newspaper did nothing wrong by not publishing anything about the document he found after the raid, and by not sharing the document with the councilwoman.

69 year old Mr. Meyer, a longtime journalist, has served as a reporter for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a professor at the University of Illinois. The Record, with a staff of seven and a circulation of about 4,000, is known for its fiery editorials about local officials and aggressive reporting, unusually for a paper of its size. But this is a small-town paper with small-town concerns: Last week’s top story was about a 10-year-old boy learning to play guitar at a local senior center.

In an interview at The Record’s office Wednesday, he said he was vindicated by the district attorney’s decision and was grateful the paper’s equipment was withdrawn. He criticized the county attorney and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for releasing reports about the decision before telling him.

He proudly held a printout of this week’s edition, which staff stayed up late into the night to prepare as these devices disappeared. In 200-point font, read the caption, “Caught … but not silenced.”

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“You can’t let the bullies win, and eventually a bully crosses the line and gets bad enough that other people come around and support you,” Mr. Mayer said.

Attorney representing The Record, Bernard J. Rhodes called the county’s decision to withdraw its search warrant and return the seized items “a promising first step.”

“However, this does nothing to compensate the paper for violating its First Amendment rights when the search was conducted and most regrettably did not return Joan Mayer,” he added.

Mr. Meyer said her mother’s last 24 hours were terrible, but she would have enjoyed the outpouring of support The Record has received — 2,000 more people have subscribed to the magazine in the past few days — amid its ongoing disputes with law enforcement agencies.

“He would have liked to be considered almost a martyr to the cause,” he said.

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