Police seize records and computers from Kansas newspaper in identity theft probe

Police seize records and computers

Raid targets newspaper office and publisher’s home

Law enforcement officers in Kansas raided the home and office of a newspaper owner on Friday, sparking outrage from press freedom advocates and raising constitutional questions. The paper’s co-owner and publisher, Eric Meyer, believes the raid in Marion, a small city about 60 miles north of Wichita, was prompted by a story published Wednesday about a local business owner, while authorities said they are investigating what they called “identity theft” in a search warrant.

Computers, cell phones, and other materials were seized during the raid at the Marion County Record, Meyer confirmed to CNN. At the time of the raid, Meyer said he was at the home of his 98-year-old mother, who died less than 24 hours later. Police took Meyer’s phone, a computer router and an old laptop he hadn’t used in two weeks from the home, Meyer said.

Officials conducted the raid after Marion County Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar signed a search warrant Friday morning, which alleges violations of identity theft and “unlawful acts concerning computers.” The search warrant identified a list of items law enforcement officials were allowed to seize, including “documents and records pertaining to Kari Newell,” the business owner who was the subject of the story, Meyer said. The warrant also specifically targeted ownership of computers and devices or internet service accounts used to “participate in the identify theft of Kari Newell,” he added.

Newspaper story sparks controversy

The story that Meyer thinks triggered the raid was about Kari Newell, who operates a coffee shop called Kari’s Kitchen in Marion. The story reported that Newell had been driving without a valid driver’s license since 2008, when she was convicted of a traffic offense. The story also quoted Newell’s estranged husband, who claimed that she had used his identity to obtain credit cards and loans without his consent.

Meyer said he and his reporter, Phyllis Zorn, were tipped off about Newell’s driving status after they attended a public meet-and-greet event with US Representative Jake LaTurner, a Republican who represents the area, at Newell’s coffee shop earlier this month. Meyer said he and Zorn were asked to leave by Newell, who said she did not want the media in her shop. Meyer said he verified Newell’s driving record with the Kansas Department of Revenue before publishing the story.

Newell confirmed to CNN that she had asked Meyer and his reporter to leave during the public event with LaTurner because she believes the newspaper “has a long-standing reputation for twisting and contorting comments within our community.” She also denied using her husband’s identity for financial purposes, saying that they had jointly applied for credit cards and loans before their separation. She said she was unaware of her driving status until she read the newspaper story.

Press freedom group condemns raid

The raid on the newspaper office and publisher’s home drew condemnation from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance and advocacy for journalists. The RCFP said in a statement that it was “deeply troubled” by the raid and that it raised “serious constitutional concerns.”

“The seizure of journalists’ work product and confidential sources has a chilling effect on newsgathering and violates fundamental press freedom principles,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of RCFP. “We urge law enforcement to return any seized materials immediately and respect the First Amendment rights of the Marion County Record and its staff.”

The RCFP also noted that Kansas has a shield law that protects journalists from being compelled to disclose their sources or unpublished information in legal proceedings. The law also prohibits search warrants from being issued for such materials unless certain conditions are met, such as showing probable cause that a crime has been committed and that the information is essential to the investigation.

Meyer said he was not aware of any legal proceedings against him or his newspaper related to the story about Newell. He said he had not been contacted by law enforcement or prosecutors before or after the raid. He said he plans to challenge the legality of the raid and seek the return of his seized property.

Newspaper owner mourns mother’s death

Meyer said he was devastated by the death of his mother, Olive Ruth Meyer, who passed away on Saturday morning. He said she had been suffering from dementia and other health issues for some time. He said he believes the stress of the raid may have contributed to her death.

“She was very proud of me and what I do,” Meyer said. “She was always supportive of me and my newspaper.”

Meyer said his mother was also a co-owner of the newspaper, which has been in his family for four generations. He said she had worked as a reporter, editor, photographer and bookkeeper for the paper over the years. He said he plans to continue publishing the paper in her honor.

“I’m not going to let this stop me from doing my job,” Meyer said. “I’m going to keep reporting the truth and holding the powerful accountable.”

Category: Media

Meta Description: A Kansas newspaper owner says police raided his home and office, seizing records and computers, after he published a story about a local business owner.

Slug: kansas-newspaper-raid-identity-theft-probe


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