Law enforcement officers in Marion, Kansas conducted a raid on a local newsroom and a journalist’s home, leading to concerns about violations of federal law protecting press freedom.
The crux of the situation: Officers raided the Marion County Record and confiscated various items from the premises under the justification of investigating “identity theft” linked to the paper’s acquisition of information about a local restaurant owner’s driving record.
* The co-owner of the Marion County Record, Eric Meyer, stated the police operation took several hours during which staff were not permitted to enter the office.
The legal angle: First Amendment experts, including attorney Lynn Oberlander, say this rare action seems to violate the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, which generally prohibits law enforcement from confiscating information from journalists.
* Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody justified the raid pointing to an exception in the law allowing for investigations if journalists are thought to be involved in the crime being looked into.
* However, Ken White, a First Amendment litigator, suggested the raid may be a violation of the Fourth Amendment that protects against “unreasonable” searches and seizures.
The paper’s stance: Eric Meyer maintains the paper received the driving record information from a separate source and decided not to publish it.
* Meyer claimed the invasion has hampered the weekly newspaper’s operations, adding he is in contact with legal aid to challenge the police’s subsequent inspection of the confiscated items.
Public reaction: Various industry experts have decried the police action as an overreach, calling for investigation of the authorities involved.
* James Risen, former director of the Press Freedom Defense Fund, labeled the move as an “outrageous abuse of power.”
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