TOPEKA (KSNT)- The police raid of the Marion County Record continues to raise questions of press freedom in Kansas. Political experts weighed in on the raid on Topeka political show “Inside Kansas Politics” on Sunday.
Political Professor Bill Fiander said the raid has a “chilling effect” on people’s rights.
“In terms of having it be at a local level… where maybe you’re out of sight, out of mind… and maybe you might think that you could get away with some of these types of repressions of the First Amendment… unless you have professionals and journalism and civically engaged population and citizens,” Fiander said. “There may be a lot more instances of this out there… maybe subtle instances…”
The Marion County Record, a newspaper in Marion, Kansas, was raided by the local police department on August 11. They also raided the home of the newspaper’s publisher and editor, Eric Meyer, which he shared with his mother Joan Meyer. Joan, the 98-year-old co-owner of the newspaper, died on Saturday, the day after the raid.
According to the Associated Press, police said they had probable cause to believe there were violations of Kansas law, including one pertaining to identity theft, involving a woman named Kari Newell. Newell said she believed the newspaper, acting on a tip, violated the law to get her personal information to check the status of her driver’s license following a 2008 conviction for drunk driving.
Meyer said the Record decided not to write about it, but when Newell revealed at the subsequent city council meeting that she had driven while her license was suspended, that was reported.
Just days after computers and cellphones were seized by police; the Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey withdrew the search warrant against the newspaper. Ensey stated that there was “insufficient evidence” for the search and seizure.
“If you can get raided for protecting confidential sources… getting confidential information from people… a lot of our jobs would be in danger,” said Rachel Mipro, an author at the Kansas Reflector.
“I’d like to see the evidence that supported this raid in the first place…,” Mipro said. “We’ve not really gotten any good evidence for why they needed to do this raid… so I would want to see this evidence. And, the fact that we haven’t had any yet, despite all this backlash, I think that’s pretty significant in of itself.”
In the wake of the newspaper raid, Kansas democrats announced plans to introduce legislation changing how search warrants are authorized.
On Tuesday, State Representatives Vic Miller, of Topeka, and Jason Probst, of Hutchinson, announced plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit magistrate judges from authorizing search warrants.
During the press conference, Miller also raised concerns over the enforcement of Kansas’ shield law, which some believe was ignored during the raid.
Kansas’ shield law protects information procured by journalists, during newsgathering. That includes information like notes, outtakes, photographs, tapes and other recordings.
“If nothing can be done when someone breaks the law, what’s to keep them from ignoring the law?” Miller said. “There is a law… the shield law… that sets out a process to prevent this kind of occurrence. But, if you don’t adhere to it, what good is it? And, if you don’t have a penal aspect to not following the law, then you’re going to have a repeat occurrence.”