News organizations across the country - including The E.W. Scripps Company on behalf of stations in Kansas City, Missouri and Lawrence, Kansas — have collectively sent a letter to the police chief of Marion, Kansas, condemning a raid of the Marion County Record newspaper.
Scripps News Kansas Cityobtained surveillance video on Monday that shows officers seizing computer equipment from the newspaper's office.
A letter sent out on behalf of news organizations was authored by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The E.W. Scripps Company joined the Associated Press, CBS News, NBCUniversal News Group Inc., the New York Times Company and the Washington Post, among others, to co-sign the letter.
"Newsroom searches and seizures are among the most intrusive actions law enforcement can take with respect to the free press, and the most potentially suppressive of free speech by the press and the public," the letter read.
In the surveillance video obtained by Scripps News Kansas City, Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody can be seen joined by other officers as they examined, photographed and confiscated multiple computers and other equipment before taking the items away to another location. The home of the newspaper's owner and co-publisher, Eric Meyer, was also searched.
News of Friday’s raid started to circulate widely on Friday night after an article published by the Kansas Reflector was published. The outlet is an independent media organization operating in the state.
Meyer told the Kansas Reflector that authorities took electronic news gathering equipment, work products and other material as part of a search warrant at the office of the paper, which is located about an hour north of Wichita.
Meyer said authorities executed the search warrant, which was approved by Marion County Magistrate Judge Laura Viar.
In an email reply on Sunday to Scripps News Kansas City, Marion Police Chief Cody wrote that while he could not release further information, once he could, the public would see that his officers' actions would be vindicated.
Cody referenced an exemption in the federal Privacy Protection Act that he believes allowed his officers to perform the search warrant.
In the letter from news organizations, attorneys say Cody’s rationale is "inapplicable." Two additional exemptions that might be possible within the act also did not "appear to apply," according to the letter.
"In short, the search warrant directed at the Marion County Record was significantly overbroad, improperly intrusive and possibly in violation of federal law," the letter explains.
The letter closed with a demand to return seized equipment and records, purge any records in the department created as part of the execution of the search warrant, and launch an independent review of the incident.
Bernie Rhodes, the attorney representing the newspaper and its owner, provided Scripps News Kansas City with a copy of the search warrant that was served to Meyer at the beginning of Friday’s raid.
Rhodes also provided a copy of a letter he wrote to Cody on behalf of the newspaper.
"I can assure you that the Record will take every step to obtain relief for the damages your heavy-handed actions have already caused my client," Rhodes wrote.
"As I stated at the beginning, this letter offers you an opportunity to mitigate those damages moving forward."
A spokesperson for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said the agency did not request a search warrant to seize equipment from the newspaper’s offices, nor were its agents present during the raid.
Surveillance video obtained on Monday, Aug. 14 by Scripps News Kansas City shows members of the Marion, Kansas, Police Department seizing equipment from the Marion County Record on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said in a statement on Monday her office is waiting for additional information before offering additional comment.
"What we've seen so far about the search and seizure of the Marion County Record newsroom is concerning," Kelly wrote.
"Protecting local newspapers is essential to protecting small towns — and protecting a free and fair press is essential to protecting our democracy."
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