Police Raid of Kansas Newspaper Linked to Reporter’s Use of Business Owner’s Driving Records

by Madison Thomas
fokus keyword: raid

In a recently revealed court document, the police chief in charge of the raid on a newspaper in Kansas has claimed that a reporter engaged in deceptive behavior by either posing as someone else or providing false reasons while obtaining the driving records of a local business owner. However, reporter Phyllis Zorn, along with Eric Meyer, the Editor and Publisher of the Marion County Record, and the newspaper’s legal representative, have contended that Zorn’s actions were within legal boundaries when she accessed publicly available information about restaurant operator Kari Newell from a state website.

The controversial raid, orchestrated by Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody on August 11, has brought considerable global attention to the small town in central Kansas. The raid prompted discussions about the freedom of the press, placing the town at the center of this ongoing debate. During the raid, law enforcement confiscated computers, personal phones, and a router from the newspaper’s premises. However, all the seized items were returned on Wednesday, as the county prosecutor determined that there was insufficient evidence to justify the raid.

On a later date, the Record’s attorney, Bernie Rhodes, made the affidavits that were used to justify the raid publicly available. These documents, previously undisclosed, revealed that Zorn’s access to Newell’s driving records was the primary reason behind the police action.

According to the affidavit, the newspaper had received a tip and had checked the public website of the Kansas Department of Revenue to verify the status of Newell’s driver’s license in relation to a past drunk driving conviction. Police Chief Cody stated in the affidavit that the Department of Revenue informed him that the individuals who accessed the information were Record reporter Phyllis Zorn and an individual using the name “Kari Newell.” Cody’s affidavit further mentioned that he had contacted Newell, who asserted that her identity had been compromised.

As a result of this, Cody stated, “Downloading the document involved either impersonating the victim or lying about the reasons why the record was being sought.”

Normally, state law keeps license records confidential, but there are specific circumstances under which they can be accessed, as cited in the affidavit. For instance, individuals can request their own records by providing their driver’s license number and date of birth. The records can also be shared in certain situations, such as for legal purposes or insurance claims, with the stipulation that personal information is not disclosed.

Meyer clarified that Zorn had actually contacted the Department of Revenue before her online search and had been instructed on how to conduct the search. Zorn herself responded to allegations that she had used Newell’s name to access her personal information, stating, “My response is I went to a Kansas Department of Revenue website and that’s where I got the information.” She maintained that her actions were neither illegal nor wrong.

The newspaper’s attorney, Bernie Rhodes, argued that Zorn’s actions were in accordance with both state and federal laws. Rhodes emphasized that using the subject’s name was not equivalent to identity theft but was rather a method to access the individual’s record.

The newspaper had obtained Newell’s driver’s license number and date of birth from an unsolicited source, as stated by Meyer. Ultimately, the Record decided not to publish any content related to Newell’s record. However, when Newell disclosed during a City Council meeting that she had driven with a suspended license, the newspaper reported on it.

The investigation into whether the newspaper violated state laws is ongoing and is now being led by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. State Attorney General Kris Kobach has stated that he does not consider the KBI’s role to involve investigating the police’s conduct.

Legal experts have raised concerns that the raid on August 11 may have violated a federal privacy law that safeguards journalists from having their newsrooms searched. Some also believe that it might have contravened a Kansas law that makes it harder to compel reporters and editors to reveal their sources or unpublished materials.

Police Chief Cody has not responded to several requests for comments, including an email inquiry on Sunday. He had initially defended the raid on Facebook, stating that the federal law protecting journalists from newsroom searches contains exceptions specifically for cases “when there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing.”

Following the raid, the Record received support from various news organizations and media groups, resulting in an influx of around 4,000 new subscribers. This growth has been significant enough to double the size of the newspaper’s print run, although a majority of the new subscriptions are digital.

Meyer attributed the stress caused by the raid to the passing of his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, who was a co-owner of the paper. Her funeral services were held on Saturday.

Reporting contributed from O’Fallon, Missouri.

The Big Big News is supported by various private foundations to enhance its coverage of elections and democracy. For more information about AP’s democracy initiative, visit the website. The AP bears full responsibility for all content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about PressFreedomDebate

What was the reason behind the police raid on a Kansas newspaper?

The police chief leading the raid alleged that a reporter impersonated someone or lied about intentions when accessing a local business owner’s driving records.

Were any laws broken during the reporter’s actions?

Reporter Phyllis Zorn, the newspaper’s editor Eric Meyer, and their attorney maintain that the accessed information was from a public state website and no laws were violated.

What prompted the raid’s international attention?

The raid by Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody on August 11 brought focus on press freedoms, turning the small Kansas town into a center of debate.

What items were confiscated during the raid?

Police took computers, personal phones, and a router from the newspaper’s premises, which were later returned after a lack of evidence was found.

What was the driving force behind the raid?

Court documents revealed that the reporter’s access to a business owner’s driving records was the primary reason behind the police action.

Did the newspaper’s actions follow legal procedures?

The newspaper, acting on a tip, accessed public state records about the business owner’s driving records, which they believed was within legal boundaries.

Was the accessed information normally confidential?

Driving license records are typically confidential under state law, but they can be accessed under specific circumstances, as stated in the affidavit.

What did the police chief claim about the reporter’s actions?

The police chief alleged that the reporter either impersonated the business owner or provided false reasons when obtaining the driving records.

Was there any violation of press freedom laws?

Legal experts have raised concerns that the raid might have violated federal privacy laws protecting journalists from newsroom searches.

What was the aftermath of the raid for the newspaper?

The newspaper received support from various news organizations, resulting in a significant increase in subscribers and a renewed focus on digital content.

Did the raid have personal consequences for the newspaper’s editor?

The stress caused by the raid was cited as a contributing factor in the passing of the newspaper’s co-owner, Joan Meyer.

Who supports The Big Big News?

The organization receives support from private foundations to enhance its coverage of elections and democracy, with the AP being solely responsible for its content.

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jenny_gurl August 21, 2023 - 3:09 pm

omg did u hear bout that crazy raid on a kansas paper? police chief says reporter did sum shady stuff with drivin records!

wordnerd42 August 22, 2023 - 3:24 am

reporter gets blamed 4 raid? lol this iz like a movie plot. r they 4 real? press freedom iz serious tho.


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