On August 11, law enforcement conducted a "Gestapo-style raid" on the offices of The Marion County Record in Kansas and two homes of people connected to the paper—including the home shared by 98-year-old Joan Meyer (a co-owner of the paper) and her son Eric Meyer (the publisher of the paper).
From the moment the raid happened—in which the entire local police department and two sheriff's deputies seized computers, phones, records and everything the paper would normally use to publish its next issue—it was clear that it was illegal (as well as "unconscionable and un-American").
Shortly after the raid, 98-year-old Joan Meyer told The Wichita Eagle: “These are Hitler tactics, and something has to be done.”
According to her son Eric, Joan Meyer, a newspaperwoman since 1953, was in good health prior to the raid, but afterwards she couldn't sleep or eat.
On August 12, she collapsed and died.
What happened next
On Saturday August 12, the same day Joan Meyer was drawing her last breaths at the home he had personally raided the day before, Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody issued a statement forcefully defending the the search of the newspaper and claiming: "I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated."
But claiming "it was a perfect raid!" doesn't make it so and Cody's claims blew over faster than Trump's wall in a strong wind.
Along with problems with the the search warrant that were apparent as soon as the raid happened, it was quickly revealed that Police Chief Cody's new local newspaper was investigating him for over allegations that he had "retired" from his last post in Kansas City "under a cloud" and "facing discipline."
Or as The Daily Mail put it:
Meanwhile, no one could explain why Chief Cody's police department hadn't followed the letter of the law in first issuing subpoenas for the specific information it sought, as opposed to a thuggish raid on not only journalists, but also elderly citizens who had done nothing wrong.
"There's nobody watching the police at this point"
Even as Chief Cody's personal motivations for shutting down the paper were revealed, the unnecessary nature of his illegal raid became became even more clear when it emerged that the original warrant was based on a story the paper hadn't even published—and was prompted by the paper actually informing police about its concerns with information it had been provided.
As Eric Meyer told PBS's William Brangham:
We... informed the police... that the source had sent us this thing, because it was possible that the source had obtained it from police records, rather than where she said she did.
We notified the police of that Friday before the raids. A week later, they did not ask any question. We offered at the time, if you think there's a case you want to pursue, we will give you any more information you want. That didn't — they didn't talk to us, didn't say a word to us until they showed up at our doors on the following Friday morning.
Meyer also told PBS: "This kind of stuff can't stand. We can't allow police to come running through newsrooms and seizing things and looking. And there's nobody watching the police at this point."
Meanwhile, CBS-affiliate KWCH News in Wichita is now reporting that the judge who approved the illegal search warrant may have her own reasons to want to keep local reporters from poking around in her business:
Eighth Judicial District Magistrate Judge Laura Viar has two DUI arrests on her record... Viar, who went by Laura Allen at the time, was put on diversion for an arrest in Coffey County (in 2012). Seven months later, she was arrested again for a DUI in Morris County while she was the county attorney. Viar (Allen) was not supposed to be driving since her license had been suspended for the first arrest.
According to a 2012 story published by WIBW, Viar (Allen) drove off the road and crashed into a school building while driving a then-8th district magistrate judge’s vehicle.
The Marion County search warrant has now been "withdrawn"
Now for the good news: The national attention this case generated, along with the advocacy of press freedom organizations, combined with the willingness of publisher Eric Meyer and his lawyer Bernie Rhodes to take their case to the media have succeeded in getting the search warrant revoked.
Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey said in an August 16, 2023 statement: "Upon further review, however, I have come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized. As a result, I have submitted a proposed order asking the court to release the evidence seized. I have asked local law enforcement to return the material seized to the owners of the property."
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that the investigation will continue "without review or examination of any of the evidence seized on Friday, Aug. 11."
But some damage can't be undone
As the Record's lawyer Bernie Rhodes said yesterday, the withdrawal of the search warrant and the return of the confiscated items "does nothing to recompense the paper for the violation of its First Amendment rights when the search was conducted, and most regrettably, does not return Joan Meyer."
At a time when, all across America, local journalism as a whole is fighting for its life, the death of Joan Meyer in these circumstances is especially tragic.
As Eric Meyer said earlier this week in his interview with PBS:
She worked at the newspaper for 50 years. We bought it 25 years ago. My parents and I jointly bought it 25 years ago to keep it from going under chain ownership, the great part of her life, the dedication to the community and the dedication to community journalism that said, hey, you can make more money buying something, buying stock or something like that, rather than buying a newspaper company.
But we wanted to do it because it benefits the community. And this is like the whole — everything — your back was turned on. So, the last 24 hours of a 98-year-old woman's life was devoted to pain and anguish and a feeling that all her life didn't matter.
I think, if she were alive today, she'd be pleased that her death has brought some attention to this story, and in a positive way. But she's not alive now. And who do you see about that?
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