Footage showing police officers raiding the home of one of the co-owners of a Kansas newspaper was published on Monday. The video, which has been circulating on social media, showed local law enforcement searching the home of Joan Meyer, who co-owned the Marion County Record with her son Eric Meyer.
Joan can be seen confronting the officers as they rifle through her property. “This is my house!” she yelled. “Get out of my house!”
The officers continued their search while attempting to assure her they would be leaving soon.
Unfortunately, Joan Meyer, who was 98 years old, passed away the day after the police raided her home. The newspaper said she had been “traumatized” by the search and “collapsed and died following the intense stress and grief she felt when her home was raided by the entirety of the Marion Police Department in Kansas.”
The case has received scrutiny and criticism on a national scale, with many arguing that the officers’ actions threatened freedom of the press and infringed on the Fourth Amendment. Law enforcement obtained a search warrant allowing them to raid Meyer’s home and the newspaper’s offices for evidence related to an “identity theft” investigation.
In an unprecedented raid Friday, local law enforcement seized computers, cellphones and reporting materials from the Marion County Record office, the newspaper’s reporters, and the publisher’s home.
Eric Meyer, owner and publisher of the newspaper, said police were motivated by a confidential source who leaked sensitive documents to the newspaper, and the message was clear: “Mind your own business or we’re going to step on you.”
The city’s entire five-officer police force and two sheriff’s deputies took “everything we have,” Meyer said, and it wasn’t clear how the newspaper staff would take the weekly publication to press Tuesday night.
The raid followed news stories about a restaurant owner who kicked reporters out of a meeting last week with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, and revelations about the restaurant owner’s lack of a driver’s license and conviction for drunken driving.
After the raid ignited controversy, the prosecutor withdrew the warrant, explaining that his investigation showed there was “insufficient evidence” to have justified the search in the first place. “As a result, I have submitted a proposed order asking the court to release the evidence seized. I have asked local law enforcement to return the material seized to the owners of the property,” Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey said in a written statement.
Later, the affidavit used to persuade a judge to sign off on the warrant was made public. Court documents confirmed reports that the raid was in response to information obtained by reporter Phyllis Zorn via a confidential tip about Kari Newell, a local restaurant owner.
The affidavit showed that Zorn’s search of Newell’s driving records was the primary impetus behind the raid on the newspaper.
In the affidavits, Marion Police Chief Gabriel Cody says Newell provided him with a written statement after she said she spoke with the paper’s publisher, writing “she says that on a phone call from 08/07/2023 at or around 1901 hours, Eric Meyer admitted to her an employee of his Phyllis Zorn downloaded the private DOR record information and that is why there would be no story. She stated Eric then threatened her ‘if you say anything I will print the story and will continue to use anything I can to come at you. I will own your restaurant.’”
Bernie Rhodes, the attorney representing the Marion County Record, argued that Zorn’s actions were legal under Kansas law. He said using a subject’s name to look up their record “is not identity theft,” and doing so is “just the way of accessing that person’s record.”
What is also noteworthy about this case is that the judge who signed the warrant has also been convicted of driving under the influence on at least two occasions.
Days after law enforcement raided the Marion County Record, 12 News learned that the judge who signed off on the warrant has a criminal history.
Eighth Judicial District Magistrate Judge Laura Viar has two DUI arrests on her record. Both incidents happened in 2012 in Morris and Coffey counties. Viar, who went by Laura Allen at the time, was put on diversion for an arrest in Coffey County. Seven months later, she was arrested again for a DUI in Morris County while she was the county attorney. Viar (Allen) was not supposed to be driving since her license had been suspended for the first arrest.
According to a 2012 story published by WIBW, Viar (Allen) drove off the road and crashed into a school building while driving a then-8th district magistrate judge’s vehicle.