Security cameras captured the moment police raided the weekly magazine’s news office and seized its equipment in Marion, Kansas.
Seven officers from the Marion City Police Department raided the offices of the Marion County Record magazine and the home of the magazine’s publisher and co-owner Eric Meyer on Friday.
“They took a laptop and my mother’s computer from her house and the deputy mayor’s computer from her house. They took my personal phone, the vice president’s phone and both of our reporters and didn’t tell us when they were going to give it back to us,” said Eric Meyer, publisher of the Marion County Record.
The search warrant is related to a dispute between the magazine and Kari Newell, a restaurant owner who accuses the magazine of violating privacy laws.
She says that the journalists illegally obtained her personal data.
The magazine says it used verified information from public records.
A day after the raid, Ms. Joan, Mr. Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, who co-owned the magazine, died. Her son believes the stress caused by the raid caused his mother’s death.
Over 30 media organizations have protested the police action, through a letter addressed to the Marion City Police Department.
“There are laws that protect journalists from such a scandalous excess of powers. In most cases, when things get to this point, when the work of journalists is suspect, the journalist, or the media organization, should be called to court first,” said Ms. Beth Francesco of the Journalism Institute at the National Press Club.
The Marion Police Department did not respond to a VOA request for comment. But in a post on social media, the police defended their actions.
“A raid of this magnitude against the Marion County Record is unprecedented. At worst, it is extremely rare action. It is the first time it happens in this form. The entire police department in Marion, Kansas, went into the magazine’s offices and into the home of one of the owners, Mrs. Joan Meyer,” said Mr. Clayton Weimers, executive director of Reporters Without Borders in America.
The raid has worried media freedom advocates in the United States. But the data show that this is not an isolated incident; recently, in the US, there have been several such raids and seizures.
“Such tactics are often used to silence the media and keep citizens uninformed about what is happening in their communities,” says Ms. Francesco.
Mr. Meyer says the magazine plans to sue the police department and possibly others involved in the case, calling the raid a constitutional violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press.