A central Kansas police force sparked a firestorm by raiding a newspaper and the publisher’s home

The offices of the Marion County Record sit across from the Marion County Courthouseon Aug. 13 in Marion, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

MARION, Kan. — A small central Kansas police department is facing a torrent of criticism for raiding a local newspaper’s office and the owner and publisher’s home, seizing computers and cellphones, and, in the publisher’s view, stressing his 98-year-old mother enough to cause her weekend death.

Several press freedom watchdogs condemned the Marion Police Department’s actions as a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protection for a free press. The Marion County Record’s editor and publisher, Eric Meyer, worked with his staff Sunday to reconstruct stories, ads and other materials for its next edition Wednesday, even as he took time in the afternoon to provide a local funeral home with information about his mother, Joan, the paper’s co-owner.


A search warrant tied the raids by Marion police, led Friday morning by Chief Gideon Cody, to a dispute between the newspaper and a local restaurant owner, Kari Newell. She is accusing the newspaper of invading her privacy and illegally accessing information about her and her driving record and suggested that the newspaper targeted her after she threw Meyer and a reporter out of restaurant when it hosted an event for the congressman who represents the area.

While Meyer saw Newell’s complaints — which he said were untrue — as prompting the raids, he also believes the newspaper’s aggressive coverage of local politics and issues played a role. He said the newspaper was examining Cody’s past work with the Kansas City, Missouri, police as well.

“This is the type of stuff that, you know, that Vladimir Putin does, that Third World dictators do,” Meyer said during an interview in his office. “This is Gestapo tactics from World War II.”

Cody said Sunday that the raid was legal and tied to an investigation.

The raids occurred in a town of about 1,900 people, nestled among rolling prairie hills, about 150 miles (241 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City.

But as Meyer fielded messages from reporters and editors as far away as London and reviewed footage from the newsroom’s surveillance camera, Newell was receiving death threats from as far away, she said. She said the Record engages in “tabloid trash reporting” and was trying to hush her up.

“I fully believe that the intent was to do harm and merely tarnish my reputation, and I think if had it been left at that, I don’t think that it would have blown up as big as it was,” Newell said in a telephone interview.

Newell said she threw Meyer and the Record reporter out of the event for Republican U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner event at the request of others who are upset with the “toxic” newspaper. On the town’s main street, one storefront included a handmade “Support Marion PD” sign.”

The police chief and other officials also attended and were acknowledged at the reception, and the Marion Police Department highlighted the event on its Facebook page.

LaTurner’s office did not immediately return phone messages left Sunday at his Washington and district offices seeking comment.

Newell said she believes the newspaper violated the law to get her personal information as it checked on the status of her driver’s license following a 2008 drunken driving conviction and other driving violations.

The newspaper countered that it received that information unsolicited, which it verified through public online records. It eventually decided not to run a story because it wasn’t sure the source who supplied it had obtained it legally.

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