After police raided a small Kansas newspaper on Friday, its 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Meyer, "collapsed and died."
Meyer had become "stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief" after police stormed through the Marion County Record as well as Meyer's home — raids that were illegal, according to the paper (via CBS News).
Friday's raid was part of a "search warrant" after a restauranteur, Kari Newell, accused the paper of "illegally obtaining drunk driving information" about her and passing the information along to Marion Councilwoman Ruth Herbel. But the paper argues that "the Record did not seek out the information [but] rather, it was provided by a source who sent it to the newspaper via social media and also sent it to Herbel."
"Our first priority is to be able to publish next week," said publisher Eric Meyer. "But we also want to make sure no other news organization is ever exposed to the Gestapo tactics we witnessed today. We will be seeking the maximum sanctions possible under law."
The raid seems to have violated the First Amendment, according to Seth Stern, advocacy director of Freedom of the Press Foundation. "This looks like the latest example of American law enforcement officers treating the press in a manner previously associated with authoritarian regimes … The anti-press rhetoric that's become so pervasive in this country has become more than just talk and is creating a dangerous environment for journalists trying to do their jobs."
Police took Meyer's computer and a router used by an Alexa smart speaker during the raid at her home, according to the paper. Officers at the Record's office seized personal cellphones, computers, the newspaper's file server and other equipment. Cody also allegedly forcibly grabbed reporter Deb Gruver's cellphone, injuring a finger that had previously been dislocated. …
The federal Privacy Protection Act protects journalists and newsrooms from most searches by law enforcement, requiring police usually to issue subpoenas rather than search warrants.
The Record verified the information about Newell through public records but did not plan to publish it, believing that the information had "been intentionally leaked to the newspaper as part of legal sparring between Newell and her estranged husband," the paper wrote. …
Police have fallen under scrutiny due to the search, with free speech advocates expressing concern about its implications.
PEN America on Saturday said law enforcement should be held accountable for violating the Record's rights.
"Journalists rely on confidential sources to report on matters of vital public concern," Shannon Jankowski, PEN America's journalism and disinformation program director, said in a statement. "Law enforcement's sweeping raid on The Marion County Record and confiscation of its equipment almost certainly violates federal law and puts the paper's very ability to publish the news in jeopardy."