Following last Friday’s police raid on a small newspaper office in Marion, Kansas, a prosecutor said Wednesday that the raid on the Marion County Record was not supported by evidence.

As reported by The Associated Press, Joel Ensey, the Marion County attorney, released a statement on Wednesday saying that his review of police seizures from the Marion County Record found “insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.”

Ensey withdrew the search warrant and said that all items taken during the raid would be returned to the paper. The reversal was first reported by a local Kansas City TV station and was then confirmed by Bernie Rhodes, the attorney for the newspaper. Rhodes told media representatives that the items taken would be examined by a forensics expert to see if anything had been “accessed or altered” before being returned to the newspaper office.

The reversal followed days of outrage from press advocacy organizations and others. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre even weighed in on the raid during Wednesday’s press briefing. “It is important to me and from here and to the president to reiterate, as he has done many times before, the freedom of the press, that is the core value when we think about our democracy, when you think about the cornerstone of our democracy, the freedom of the press is right there,” said Jean-Pierre.

Police raid local newspaper office in Kansas, raising First Amendment questions

Seth Stern, director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in a statement to The Washington Post that “The Record never should have been subject to this chilling search in the first place.” His organization called on the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to conduct an investigation into the raid.

On Tuesday, the KBI announced that it had launched a criminal probe, but, The Washington Post reports, it is “not clear whether the state investigation is focused on the local officers who conducted the search at the Marion County Record or on the reporters and editors for the small weekly paper.”

Editor and Publisher Eric Meyer considers a question from reporters about the aftermath of a local police raid on his newspaper’s offices and his home, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, in Marion, Kan. Meyer said the newspaper will not change its coverage of the community because of the raids. | John Hanna, Associated Press

The editor of the paper, Eric Meyer, said he believes the raid was carried out because the police chief, Gideon Cody, left the Kansas City police department in April and the Marion County Record had begun an investigation as to why. The Kansas City Star reports that Cody “faced discipline for allegedly making insulting and sexist comments to a female officer, who recorded a following conversation in which he acknowledged his behavior was unprofessional.” She filed a hostile work environment complaint against him in the months before he left Kansas City. Following an internal investigation, writes the Star, he was told he would be demoted to sergeant. Instead, he resigned and went to work in Marion County.

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However, the Kansas City Star also reports that the search warrant shows police were “looking for evidence that a reporter had run an improper computer search” on a protected state database “to confirm a report that a local business owner applying for a liquor license had lost her driver’s license over a DUI.”

The Wichita Eagle reports that Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, who was appointed earlier this year and signed off on the controversial search warrant, has her own history of DUI arrests, which could bring added scrutiny to both the judge and the case.

Meyer said that the paper had received a tip about a business owner’s DUI but ultimately decided not to write a story about it. The business owner admitted in a public city council meeting that she had been charged with a DUI.

Since the raid and subsequent press coverage, the paper that normally has 4,000 subscribers saw that number jump to more than 6,000.

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