The Marion County Record reported that restaurant owner Kari Newell kicked their staff out of a public forum last week. When a third party told the paper that same restaurant owner had a DUI conviction that could have affected her eligibility to get a liquor license, the paper chose not to run the story. “We thought we were being set up,” said the publisher, Eric Meyer. After Newell made public statements accusing the paper of illegally acquiring documents, the paper published a statement defend itself.
Shortly afterwards, police raided the newspaper office and the publisher’s home, seizing computers and cell phones — and injuring one employee by wresting the phone from her hand. (It’s legal for authorities to subpoena such equipment as part of an investigation, but a federal law prevents authorities from raiding journalists who report stories that powerful people don’t like.)
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.
Meyer said he had never heard of police raiding a newspaper office during his 20 years at the Milwaukee Journal or 26 years teaching journalism at the University of Illinois.
“It’s going to have a chilling effect on us even tackling issues,” Meyer said, as well as “a chilling effect on people giving us information.”
The search warrant, signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, appears to violate federal law that provides protections against searching and seizing materials from journalists. The law requires law enforcement to subpoena materials instead. Viar didn’t respond to a request to comment for this story or explain why she would authorize a potentially illegal raid. —KAKE