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KBI director on Kansas newspaper raid: Media is not ‘above the law’

Rachel Mipro

(Kansas Reflector) The top law enforcement officer in Kansas appeared to justify a Marion County search warrant that led to an unprecedented raid on a local newspaper and potentially contributed to the death of the paper’s co-owner. 

Kansas Bureau of Investigation Director Tony Mattivi released a statement Sunday following widespread outrage of Friday’s raid, in which local law enforcement seized computers, cellphones and other reporting materials from the Marion County Record office and publisher Eric Meyer’s home. The raid was part of an investigation into the alleged identity theft of a restaurant owner who had clashed with the paper. 

A KBI statement provided to ABC News said that Mattivi “very strongly” believed in free speech and freedom of the press, but he felt the KBI needed to be able to investigate “credible allegations.” 

“In order to investigate and gather facts, the KBI commonly executes search warrants on police departments, sheriff’s offices, and at city, county and state offices,” the statement read. “We have investigated those who work at schools, churches and at all levels of public service. No one is above the law, whether a public official or a representative of the media.”

While the federal Privacy Protection Act protects journalists from searches, the Marion Police department argued in a Saturday statement that the law doesn’t apply when journalists are thought to be involved with criminal activity. The search warrant for the raid, signed by Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, was to look for evidence of identity theft and criminal use of a computer.

The alleged victim is Kari Newell, who owns a restaurant in Marion and was trying to obtain a liquor license. The newspaper received information from a confidential source that Newell had been convicted of drunken driving in 2008 and had driven without a license. A reporter used the KDOR website to verify that the information was accurate, but the newspaper decided not to publish a story about the information. Meyer said he had notified local police of the situation before the raid. 

Marion police had coordinated with the KBI earlier in the week to launch the investigation. Though the KBI assigned an agent to the case Aug. 8 that has been “assisting since that time,” KBI representatives stressed that the KBI agent didn’t apply for the search warrants and was not present when the warrants were served.

On Saturday, the newspaper reported the death of 98-year-old Joan Meyer, Eric’s mother and co-owner of the Marion County Record. Joan Meyer, who lived with Eric, had been at home at the time of the raid. The paper said she was “stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed,” when she died just a day after the raid.

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