Kansas newspaper co-owner, 98, dies after police raid home with ‘illegal’ search warrant, seize paper’s computers, phones, equipment

A small-town Kansas newspaper said its 98-year-old co-owner died Saturday after local police raided her home, seized her computer and other equipment, and separately grabbed phones, computers and other material from the paper’s staff.

National press organizations have condemned the raids on the offices, staff and owners of the Marion County Record, a 154-year-old weekly paper serving Marion, Kan. and its namesake county, home to 12,000 people.

“We are shocked and outraged by this brazen violation of press freedom,” said a statement by Eileen O’Reilly, president of the National Press Club, and Gil Klein, president of the club’s Journalism Institute.

“A law enforcement raid of a newspaper office is deeply upsetting anywhere in the world,” the statement said. “It is especially concerning in the United States, where we have strong and well-established legal protections guaranteeing the freedom of the press.”

Joan Meyer, 98, who co-owned the newspaper with her son Eric, “collapsed Saturday afternoon and died at her home,” after becoming “stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief after illegal raids,” the newspaper reported.

The Record added that Meyer was “otherwise in good health for her age.”

During their raid on Meyer’s home Friday, police seized her computer and a router used by her Amazon Alexa personal assistant device, the newspaper said. Additionally, the paper reported, cops copied bank statements belonging to her son.


At the same time they raided Meyer’s home, officers raided the newspaper’s office in Marion, the paper reported. Police seized journalists’ personal phones and computers and other equipment and material from the newspaper office, the Record said.

Officers also raided the home of Marion’s vice mayor, Ruth Herbel, 80, and seized her mobile phone and computer, the newspaper said.

The search warrant used by authorities was signed by a local judge, Laura Viar, who ordered the seizure of equipment and information used in “the identity theft of Kari Newell,” a local restaurant owner.

Last week, the newspaper reported that Newell had forced their journalists out of a public forum at her restaurant with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner. LaTurner’s staff was apologetic, said a story in the Kansas Reflector, a news website.

But Newell was angry with the newspaper’s report on the situation, and said so on her Facebook page. “Journalists have become the dirty politicians of today, twisting narrative for bias agendas, full of muddied half-truths,” Newell said. “We rarely get facts that aren’t baited with misleading insinuations.”

Afterwards, an anonymous source contacted the paper and provided evidence that Newell had lost her license after a DUI in 2008, and had illegally operated her vehicle afterward. Local news reports said the DUI could affect Newell’s wish to obtain a liquor license for her business.

The Record checked the tip, but didn’t run a story. Eric Meyer said he also alerted local police to the situation. “We thought we were being set up,” Meyer told the Reflector.

Meyer accused authorities of “Gestapo tactics.”

The National Newspaper Association called on officials in Kansas to “immediately return any property seized by law enforcement so the newspaper can proceed with its work.”

But the Marion Police Department defended the raids in a Facebook post. “When the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated,” said the post. The department’s webpage says its staff includes Chief Gideon Cody and four full-time officers.

Melissa Underwood, the communications director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, confirmed that an investigation into the matter has been launched.