The police chief who oversaw the sharply criticized raid of a Kansas local news outlet said a reporter was "either impersonating the victim or lying about the reasons why the record was being sought" when she accessed the driving records of Kari Newell, a restaurant owner. The allegation is the first suggestion of evidence that may have led to the Aug. 11 raid. Led by Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, police officers raided the Marion County Record and seized computers, personal cell phones, a router, and other equipment from the newspaper. Police also carried out raids at two private residences, including the home of the paper's co-owners. Bernie Rhodes, the paper's attorney, said the news organization did not break any state or federal laws when reporter Phyllis Zorn obtained Newell's record through a public state website, USA Today reports. "Zorn had every right, under both Kansas law and U.S. law, to access Newell’s driver’s record to verify the information she had been provided by a source," Rhodes said. "She was not engaged in 'identity theft' or 'unauthorized computer access' but was doing her job."
A search warrant later withdrawn by the county attorney said police were looking for information related to Kari Newell, who had accused the paper of "illegally obtaining drunken-driving information about her and supplying it to a council member." All seized items were released Wednesday after Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey withdrew the police search warrant. The attorney said "insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized." The incident has received widespread criticism and prompted debate over press freedoms after several news organizations condemned the police department. "It is not a crime in America to be a reporter," Rhodes said. "These affidavits prove that the only so-called 'crime' Chief Cody was investigating was being a reporter."