In a recent decision, a judge has ruled that Kansas authorities must delete all electronic copies of a small newspaper’s files that were made during a police raid on its office and has people questioning the police department’s understanding of the First Amendment.
The Controversial Search
Around August 11, the office of a small newspaper in central Kansas called the Marion County Record was raided by the police. The police even searched the homes of the newspaper’s publisher and a city council member.
The Town of Marion
The raid has people furious at the Police department and brought attention to a debate about press rights in the United States.
The town of Marion, home to about 1,900 people, found itself at the center of this discussion.
The Judge’s Order
Representing the newspaper, Attorney Bernie Rhodes revealed that a judge has commanded the authorities to surrender any electronic records they obtained and to delete all copies they may have of these records, including any photos taken during the raids.
A Clear Explanation
Although both the local prosecutor and sheriff agreed that the evidence shouldn’t be retained, Rhodes insisted on a court order for a clear explanation.
The exact content of the records will only be known once Rhodes receives a copy, if he ever does.
Following the raids, the police had to return all the computers and cell phones they had seized. The prosecutor ultimately determined that there wasn’t enough evidence to justify keeping these items.
A few days later, the newspaper discovered from court documents that an electronic copy of their files taken from its computers had been stored on a thumb drive.
Suspiciously, this detail wasn’t initially disclosed in the police search warrant inventory.
Uncertain Next Steps
City officials and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) are looking into the matter and have not provided much information on what will happen next.
City Council members and the mayor have avoided discussing the raids, and the timeline of the KBI’s investigation remains uncertain.
Preparations for Legal Action
Insurance companies for both the city and the county are taking steps to prepare for potential lawsuits, including one promised by the newspaper’s publisher.
To support the newspaper, the Kansas Press Association has organized a T-shirt sale featuring the defiant headline “SEIZED but not silenced” over the dates of the raids.
Supporting Similar Publications
Proceeds from this sale will aid the Kansas Newspaper Foundation, which supports similar publications across the state.
The Allegations and Response
The raids were conducted due to a local restaurant owner’s accusation that the newspaper illegally accessed her information and used it within a published story.
Legal Tips and Searches
The agency responsible for maintaining these records said that the newspaper’s online search was most likely within legal bounds.
A Secret Tip
Despite a tip from an anonymous source providing personal information about the restaurant owner, the reporter’s actions were deemed legally acceptable.
Legal Implications and Tragic Outcome
The police chief, Gideon Cody, alleged that the newspaper and City Council member Ruth Herbel violated state laws about identity theft and computer crimes.
Violated Privacy Law
However, legal experts believe that the raid may have violated privacy laws protecting journalists from revealing sources or sharing unpublished material.
A Tragic Consequence
Tragically, video footage captured the distressing search of the publisher’s home while his 98-year-old mother argued with police, she then passed away a day later, and her death has brought even more people to support the local newspaper.
Social Media Responds
While legal proceedings have not concluded, social media users have much to say on the matter, with one user commenting, “A judge that needs to be removed from the bench. A police department that needs to be schooled on the freedom of the press.”
Other users seem to have more sinister views of the situation with one stating, “A quick internet search of Police Chief Gideon Cody finds allegations of sexual misconduct the newspaper was reporting on… coincidence? No, power abuse and direct disregard for the 1st amendment rights. Remove the Fascist.”
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ira Bostic. The people shown in the images are for illustrative purposes only, not the actual people featured in the story.