Bernie Rhodes, attorney for the newspaper, said the Marion County Attorney has withdrawn the search warrant, and the items seized are being released.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says the “investigation remains open, however, we have determined in collaboration with the Marion County Attorney, that the investigation will proceed independently, and without review or examination of any of the evidence seized on Friday, Aug. 11.”
On Friday, Marion police seized the newspaper’s computers, phones and file server, and the personal cellphones of staff.
A warrant signed by a magistrate Friday about two hours before the raid said that local police sought to gather evidence of potential identity theft and other computer crimes stemming from a conflict between the newspaper and a local restaurant owner, Kari Newell.
According to publisher and editor Eric Meyer, there had been questions about a story one week before the police came into his business. His newspaper notified the sheriff and the police chief that they’d obtained documents from the state that Kari Newell had driven on a suspended license after getting a DUI.
The Marion County Record told law enforcement they had no plans to publish the information in a story, but one week later, police came into the building with a search warrant and seized equipment.
Police simultaneously raided the newsroom and the publisher’s home, seizing computers, his cell phone and the home’s internet router. Meyer blames the stress of the home raid for the Saturday death of his 98-year-old mother, Joan, the paper’s co-owner.
The raid drew national scrutiny over issues of press freedom.
Rhodes said the newspaper was investigating Police Chief Gideon Cody, and the circumstances around his departure from his previous job as an officer in Kansas City, Missouri. Cody left the Kansas City department earlier this year and began the job in Marion in June.
Meyer believes the paper’s coverage of local politics and the city’s police department are to blame for the raid.
On Wednesday, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey said his review of police seizures from the Marion County Record found “insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.”
Rhodes said the return of the newspaper’s property was “a promising first step, but it does nothing to make up for the violation of the First Amendment rights of the newspaper resulting from the illegal searches themselves and, regrettably, it does not bring Joan Meyer back.”
On Wednesday, the Marion County Record published its first newspaper since the incident. The front page headline is “SEIZED … but not silenced.”
The raids put Meyer and his staff in a difficult position. Because their computers were seized, they were forced to reconstruct stories, ads, and other materials.
Newspaper staff worked late into Tuesday night on the new edition, the office was so hectic that Kansas Press Association Executive Director Emily Bradbury was at once answering phones and ordering in meals for staffers.
Bradbury said the journalists and those involved in the business of the newspaper used a couple of old computers that police didn’t confiscate, taking turns to get stories to the printer, to assemble ads, and to check email. With electronics scarce, staffers made do with what they had.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.