Newly disclosed court records provide insight into how law enforcement justifies the A very unusual raid A newspaper office in Marion, Kansas — a decision that drew widespread condemnation from news organizations and press freedom advocates.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said it was investigating “identity theft” and “illegal acts related to computers” when it searched the offices of the Marion County Newspaper, the home of newspaper publisher Eric Meyer and the home of a local city councilwoman – and confiscated the computers. cell phones and other items, according to unsealed search warrant statements.
In unredacted affidavits obtained by CNN, Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody indicated that the raids were based on the belief that reporter Phyllis Zorn illegally obtained the driving records of local restaurateur Carrie Newell before the newspaper ran a story about her.
But less than a week after the raids, Marion County District Attorney Joel Ince said Withdraw search warrants It asked the authorities to return the seized items, saying: “There is insufficient evidence to establish a sufficient legal link between this alleged crime, the places searched and the items seized.”
The driving records were first sent to Zorn by a woman named Pam Mag, who confirmed to CNN that she sent the documents she received from Carrie Newell’s estranged husband, Ryan Newell.
Although the affidavit does not describe the contents of the records, interviews with Mag and husband and a story published by the Marion County Record on August 9 indicate that it showed Cary Newell drove without a valid license after receiving a drink-driving citation in 2008 while she was She is seeking a license to sell alcoholic beverages for her restaurant.
Meyer told CNN that Zorn downloaded Newell’s log to verify information she received from a source. CNN has reached out to Zorn for comment but has not received a response.
Cody wrote that the investigation found Zorn downloaded Newell’s personal records from a Kansas Department of Revenue website — three minutes before someone using the name “Carrie Newell” downloaded the records, according to the documents. However, Newell told Cody she did not download the information nor did she authorize anyone else to do so, he wrote.
“Downloading the document involves either impersonating the victim or lying about your reasons for searching for the record,” Cody wrote.
The sheriff provided a list of permitted types of records requests — it appears to be from the Department of Revenue’s website — which does not provide an option for journalists to request records.
Bernie Rhodes, the newspaper’s attorney, said: “It’s not a crime to be a reporter in America.” “These affidavits prove that the only crime Chief Cody was investigating was being a reporter.”
Rhodes denied the threat against Newell and said the newspaper did not initially release information about Newell’s driving record, fearing the paper would be used “as a pawn in a contentious divorce”. The newspaper later ran a story referring to the record after Newell accused it of obtaining the record illegally.
Newell told CNN that she previously received a DUI and entered a diversion program. When CNN spoke to her last week, she insisted she had a valid driver’s license and wasn’t denied a liquor license because of a DUI. She has not yet responded to an inquiry about whether she was driving without a valid license after the offense.
The raid on the newspaper’s office was widely criticized as a major violation of the First Amendment rights of the Marion County Register. Usually, law enforcement authorities send a subpoena to journalists when investigating a crime.
Rhodes and Meyer said they are considering filing a lawsuit against the city.
Brian Pena, a Marion city attorney, told CNN that the prospect of a lawsuit prompted him to contact the city’s insurance company, EMC Insurance, which has hired private law firm, McDonald Tinker, to conduct an investigation.
Bina was not able to say when or if the results of the internal investigation will be made public.
Jennifer Hale, the McDonald-Tinker attorney working on the case, declined to provide details of the investigation.
revisionAn earlier version of this story incorrectly described who hired law firm McDonald Tinker to conduct an investigation. It was the city’s insurance company, EMC Insurance.