A police raid on a small Kansas newspaper and related locations is now being questioned after it was discovered that the three affidavits used as the basis for the raid were not filed until three days after the search warrants were executed. The affidavits, signed by Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, were not filed until August 14th, even though they were meant to be filed before the searches took place on August 11th. The search warrants were executed for the office of the Marion County Record, as well as the homes of the newspaper publisher and Marion Councilwoman Ruth Herbel.
Bernie Rhodes, the Record's attorney, expressed concerns about the delay in filing the affidavits, stating that no explanation has been provided for why they were not filed prior to the searches. The affidavits were meant to justify the raids, with Cody alleging that reporter Phyllis Zorn illegally obtained driving records for local restaurateur Kari Newell. Newell had accused the newspaper of obtaining drunk driving information about her and supplying it to Herbel.
However, the Record defended itself, stating that it did not seek out the information but rather received it from a source via social media, who also sent it to Herbel. The newspaper then verified the information using public records. Cody's affidavit claimed that Zorn accessed the records by either impersonating Newell or lying about the reasons for seeking the record. However, Rhodes argued that Zorn's actions were legal under both state and federal law as she was simply doing her job as a journalist to verify information provided to her.
In the days following the raid, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey reviewed the police seizures and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the search warrants. He has now directed state law enforcement agencies to return the confiscated equipment to the newspaper. Ensey's decision to withdraw the search warrant comes after the raid received national attention, with many free press advocates condemning it as a possible infringement on press freedoms.
The raid itself appears to have violated federal law and the First Amendment, according to Seth Stern, advocacy director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. The federal Privacy Protection Act usually protects journalists and newsrooms from such searches, requiring police to issue subpoenas instead of search warrants. Stern expressed concern about the treatment of the press by law enforcement officers, stating that it resembles tactics used by authoritarian regimes.
The investigation into whether the newspaper broke state laws has now been taken over by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The police involved in the raid have faced pushback for their actions, with Claire Regan, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, expressing shock at the search of the newspaper's newsroom. Regan emphasized the importance of the flow of information, especially in a small town like Marion.
The Marion County Record, located in Marion, Kansas, is a small-town newspaper that serves a population of about 2,000. The raid has raised concerns about press freedom and governmental intrusion, as news organizations are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation will continue to probe whether the newspaper violated the privacy of the business owner involved in the case.