More than 30 news outlets and press freedom organizations have condemned a police raid on a Kansas newspaper.
A joint letter released Sunday said there appeared to be “no justification” for such an intrusive search at a U.S. media outlet.
Police in Marion County Friday seized devices and other material during a raid at the Marion County Record newspaper office and searched the home of the paper’s publisher.
In a report published by the Marion County Record, the newspaper said police seized computers, phones, a server and the personal cellphones of staff, based on a search warrant.
The home of publisher Eric Meyer was also searched, and police took computers, a phone and the home’s internet router. Meyer’s 98-year-old mother Joan Meyer, who was a co-owner of the Record and lived at the same address, collapsed and died Saturday, the Associated Press reported.
Eric Meyer has said he blames the stress of the home raid for his mother’s death.
A joint letter by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 34 other news organizations to the Marion County police chief on Sunday questioned the legality of the raid.
The letter said that based on a copy of the search warrant, reporting and public statements by the police, “There appears to be no justification for the breadth and intrusiveness of the search.”
“Newsroom searches and seizures are among the most intrusive actions law enforcement can take with respect to the free press, and the most potentially suppressive of free speech by the press and the public,” the joint letter read.
Meyer was cited in his newspaper as saying he believes the raid was prompted by a story published last week about a restaurant owner.
Gideon Cody, the police chief, defended the raid Sunday in an email to the AP, saying that federal law usually requires a subpoena — not just a search warrant — to raid a newsroom, but that there is an exception “when there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing.”
The email did not state what the alleged wrongdoing was.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, said in a statement Sunday that the detail in the search warrant “does not come close to justifying this sweeping infringement against a local newspaper.”
“News media cannot do their jobs if they have to fear a police raid every time they receive information from sources,” said Clayton Weimers, director of RSF’s U.S. Bureau.
Meyer said the newspaper plans to sue the police department and possibly others, calling the raid an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment’s free press guarantee.
Raids on U.S. newsrooms are rare. But data from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker shows nine search warrants obtained to access journalists’ devices since the tracker first started documenting cases six years ago.
The tracker has documented 194 cases of subpoenas or warrants for journalist records or their confidential sources, over the same period.