MARION, Kan. — Newly released video shows the 98-year-old mother of a Kansas newspaper publisher confronting police officers as they searched her home in a raid that has drawn national scrutiny, at one point demanding: “Get out of my house!”
Video released by the newspaper Monday shows Joan Meyer shouting at the six officers inside the Marion, Kansas, home she shared with her son, Marion County Record Editor and Publisher Eric Meyer. Standing with the aid of a walker and dressed in a long robe or gown and slippers, she seems visibly upset.
“Get out of my house … I don’t want you in my house!” she said at one point. “Don’t touch any of that stuff! This is my house!” she said at another.
The raids of the newspaper and the homes of the Meyers and a City Council member happened on Aug. 11, after a local restaurant owner accused the newspaper of illegally accessing information about her. Joan Meyer died a day later. Her son said he believes that the stress contributed to her death.
A prosecutor said later that there was insufficient evidence to justify the raids, and some of the seized computers and cellphones have been returned. Meanwhile, the initial online search of a state website that the police chief cited to justify the raid was legal, a spokesperson for the agency that maintains the site said Monday.
The raid on the Record put it and its hometown of about 1,900 residents in the center of a debate about press freedoms protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Kansas’ Bill of Rights. It also exposed divisions in the town over local politics and the newspaper’s coverage of the community, and put an intense spotlight on Police Chief Gideon Cody, who led the raids after the newspaper had asked questions about his background.
“As far as Chief Cody goes, he can take his high horse he brought into this community and giddy-up on out of town,” Darvin Markley, a Marion resident, said during a Monday afternoon City Council meeting. “The man needs to go. He needs to be fired.”
Cody did not attend Monday’s meeting or respond to email and cellphone messages seeking comment. He said in affidavits used to obtain the warrants that he had probable cause to believe that the newspaper and City Council member Ruth Herbel, whose home was also raided, had violated state laws against identity theft or computer crimes.
Both Herbel and the newspaper have said they received a copy of a document about the status of the restaurant owner’s license without soliciting it. The document disclosed the woman’s license number and date of birth, which are required to check the status of a person’s license online and gain access to a more complete driving record. The police chief maintains they broke state laws to do that, while the newspaper and Herbel’s attorneys say they didn’t.
Herbel, the city’s vice mayor, presided over the City Council’s meeting Monday, its first since the raids. It lasted less than an hour, and Herbel announced that council members would not discuss the raids — something its agenda already had said in an all-caps statement in red followed by 47 exclamation points. She said the council will address the raids in a future meeting.
While Herbel said after the meeting that she agrees that Cody should resign, other City Council members declined to comment. Mike Powers, a retired district court judge who is the only candidate for mayor this fall, said it’s premature to make any judgments.
The meeting came after Kansas Department of Revenue spokesperson Zack Denney said it’s legal to access the driver’s license database online to check the status of a person’s license using information obtained independently. The department’s Division of Vehicles issues licenses.
“The website is public-facing, and anyone can use it,” he said.
Meyer said the newspaper plans to file a lawsuit over the raid of its offices and his home.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation continues to examine the newspaper’s actions. The KBI reports to state Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican, while the Department of Revenue is under Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s authority.
Legal experts believe the police raid on the newspaper violated a federal privacy law or a state law shielding journalists from having to identify sources or turn over unpublished material to law enforcement.
Meyer has noted that among the items seized were a computer tower and personal cellphone of a reporter who was uninvolved in the dispute with the local restaurant owner — but who had been investigating why Cody left a Kansas City, Missouri, police captain’s job in April before becoming Marion police chief.
Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri. Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas, contributed to this report.
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