The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) has begun a criminal probe of the police raid of a newspaper office last week that has drawn outrage from journalists nationwide who see it as a violation of the First Amendment. It was not clear whether the state investigation is focused on the local officers who conducted the search at the Marion County Record or on the reporters and editors for the small weekly paper. The agency said it was asked by Marion police and the local county attorney to join an investigation into allegations of “illegal access and dissemination of confidential criminal justice information,” the Washington Post reports. Officers in the Kansas town searched the newspaper’s offices and the home of a local councilwoman on Friday, seizing computers, cellphones and files. The 98-year-old co-owner of the newspaper, Joan Meyer, died a day after her house was also searched; the Record attributed her death to the stress of the event.
The search by Marion police and sheriff’s deputies — which Record editor Eric Meyer decried as “Gestapo tactics” — has elicited sweeping condemnation from press-freedom advocates, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which urged police to return seized material in a letter signed by more than 30 news organizations and press groups. Advocates have cited state and federal laws protecting journalists, as well as the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on illegal searches and seizures by government officials. The Society of Professional Journalists offered to help cover the Record’s legal fees. The newspaper’s attorney protested the search in a letter to the town’s police chief, Gideon Cody, saying the seized material was protected under a state shield law. A KBI spokesperson offered no further details about what prompted the agency to become involved or about the thrust of its investigation. Criticism of the police raid has focused attention on Cody, who joined the small-town police force in April after wrapping up a 24-year career with the Kansas City Police Department.