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    Freedom of the Press Foundation statement on the withdrawal of the Kansas newspaper search warrant

    The Freedom of the Press Foundation has issued a statement regarding the search warrant being withdrawn in the Kansas newspaper office raid. If you aren’t familiar with the original story, you can check it out here.

    Basically, a local newspaper had found out the owner of a popular restaurant in the area was driving on a suspended license after a DUI. They never ran the story, but that didn’t stop her from complaining on social media. The local police then used that as a reason for the raid of the press office; taking computers and other property. It also helps them in that the paper was doing an investigation of the sheriff. They received some damning information on the sheriff, but because the sources wouldn’t go on the record, they didn’t run the story. The judge that issued the warrant for the raid should not have done so without a subpoena. There’s a higher bar when it comes to getting warrants for the press.

    Now that warrant has been withdrawn, but in my opinion the damage has already been done. Not just to the prescedent of raiding a press office, but the sheriff probably already got the information he was hoping to find (the names of those sources).

    From Common Dreams:

    New York, New York – Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) welcomes the withdrawal of the search warrant issued against the Marion County Record and return of the equipment and other items seized by law enforcement. But authorities can’t undo the harm they’ve done or give Joan Meyer her life back.

    FPF Director of Advocacy Seth Stern said, “Authorities deserve zero credit for coming to their senses only after an intense backlash from the local and national media and an aggressive letter from the Record’s lawyer.”

    The Record and its journalists never should have been subject to this chilling search in the first place. “Anyone should have realized that sending the entire police force to search a newsroom because journalists verified information from a source is an outrageous overreaction that threatens freedom of the press,” said FPF Deputy Director of Advocacy Caitlin Vogus. “This raid never should have happened.”

    “The Record did nothing wrong, and yet police decided to raid the newsroom and the journalists’ home and take every piece of equipment they have, jeopardizing the Record’s ability to continue publishing,” added Vogus. Police injured a reporter during the newsroom raid and, not only that, but longtime Record journalist and co-owner Joan Meyer collapsed from stress and died the day after the raid on her home.

    Stern noted that it’s not uncommon for the government to quickly abandon cases against journalists. “These kinds of frivolous abuses of the legal system to attack the press are intended not to win but to intimidate journalists. Usually, after accomplishing that goal, authorities are able to drop charges quietly to avoid embarrassing themselves in court. It’s good that this time the process is playing out publicly, thanks to the media attention this case rightfully received.”

    Dropping the warrant is just the first step that officials must take. “The Record and the public deserve to know why the Marion Police decided to conduct this raid and whether they gave even a moment’s thought to the First Amendment or other legal restrictions before they decided to search a newsroom,” said Vogus.

    We call on the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and other officials to conduct a full and transparent investigation into the decision of the Marion Police to raid the Record and the application made to the court seeking authorization for a search warrant. Judicial authorities should examine the decision of Judge Laura Vair to sign the search warrant and why that decision was entrusted to a magistrate judge with less than a year’s experience.

    Finally, the Record has suggested that it may sue, and it should. The withdrawal of the search warrant doesn’t change the fact that police rifled through the Record’s newsroom, seized almost all of its equipment, and likely contributed to the death of its 98-year-old co-owner.
    “Government officials who think they can raid a newsroom should be on notice that there are consequences for searches that violate the law,” Vogus said. “The Record should sue not only to deter future searches of its newsroom, but to protect journalists and news outlets around the country from future illegal raids.”

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    Freedom of the Press Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to helping support and defend public-interest journalism focused on exposing mismanagement, corruption, and law-breaking in government. We work to preserve and strengthen the rights guaranteed to the press under the First Amendment through crowdfunding, digital security and internet advocacy.

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