USA: RSF urges transparency as Kansas state authorities investigate the police raid against the Marion County Record
On August 11th, 2023, the entire police department of Marion, Kansas raided the office of the Marion County Record, as well as the home of its 98-year-old co-owner, seizing computers and more. On August 16th, police withdrew the search warrant and returned the items, but the public deserves answers about how and why the raid occurred in the first place.
The raid against the Record apparently stemmed from a conflict between the newspaper and a local restaurant owner that came to a boil when a reporter for the paper obtained records related to the restaurateur’s driving under the influence (DUI) conviction in 2008. A two-page warrant issued by a local judge indicates that the search and seizure relate to an investigation of identity theft connected to those documents. There is, however, public reporting that shows the animosity between the restaurateur and the newspaper goes back even further. The Record is known to have investigated local authorities in the past, including the police chief who approved the raid, prompting suggestions that the police action may have been vindictive.
“This raid appears to have been a massive abuse of power by local authorities to shutter a local newspaper they didn’t like. RSF welcomes the withdrawal of the search warrant and the return of the Marion County Record’s property, but we still need answers as to how this happened. Law enforcement cannot simply raid media organizations at will.”
RSF USA Executive Director
The Record has further alleged that this police action contributed to the death of its co-owner Joan Meyer. She died in her home on Saturday, one day after she was “stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by shock and grief.” One officer also reportedly injured a reporter while forcibly grabbing their cell phone out of their hand. In an emailed statement to news media, Marion County Police Chief Gideon Cody said, “I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated.”
Searching a news organization’s premises and seizing their devices, records, and reporting materials is the gravest possible intrusion on a media organization’s operations. It inherently impacts any media’s ability to publish and irreparably harms its reputation. Such police action inevitably also has a chilling effect on future reporting by any local media, as well as on potential sources who are considering sharing information with reporters.
The United States is ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index.