Update: On Aug. 16, 2023, the prosecutor in Marion County withdrew the search warrant and asked law enforcement to return the seized material to the Marion County Record, saying in a statement that “insufficient evidence” existed to establish a “legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.”
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and more than 35 news media organizations are condemning last week’s police raid of Kansas’s Marion County Record during which law enforcement officers seized the newspaper’s electronic newsgathering equipment and reporting materials.
According to news reports, the Marion Police Department executed a search warrant at the Record’s offices and at its publisher’s home on Aug. 11 as part of an investigation into allegations of identity theft and illegal use of a computer. The Record’s owner and publisher said the raid happened after the newspaper contacted the police department about information it had received from a source, suspecting that the paper was being “set up.”
In a letter sent to Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody on Aug. 13, Reporters Committee attorneys noted that, under any circumstances, the raid and seizure appeared overbroad and unduly intrusive, and raised concerns that the execution of the warrant may have violated federal law strictly limiting federal, state, and local law enforcement’s ability to conduct newsroom searches.
The letter urges Cody to immediately return any seized equipment and records to the newspaper; purge any such records retained by the police department; and initiate a full, independent, and transparent review into the department’s actions.
“Your department’s seizure of this equipment has substantially interfered with the Record’s First Amendment-protected newsgathering in this instance, and the department’s actions risk chilling the free flow of information in the public interest more broadly, including by dissuading sources from speaking to the Record and other Kansas news media in the future,” the media coalition’s letter states.