The search warrant that led to a raid of a local Kansas newspaper’s office has been withdrawn amid national backlash, authorities said Wednesday.
The Marion County attorney confirmed that after reviewing the warrant executed at several locations on Friday, including the offices of the Marion County Record, “insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between the alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.”
County Attorney Joel Ensey added that he asked local law enforcement, the same ones who executed the search warrants just days prior, to return the seized material to its owners. The three raids occurred at the newspaper office, the home of publisher Eric Meyer and his mother, and the home of Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel.
“This is significant progress,” Bernie Rhodes, the lawyer representing the Marion County Record, told The Daily Beast. He added that a “forensic expert is en route now to retrieve the materials” released by authorities.
“Eric is very pleased by the update, however, he is still somewhat cautious,” Rhodes said, adding that the newspaper staff “worked throughout the night to get the paper out this morning” with limited supplies after the seizure of their materials and equipment. Photos of the Wednesday morning edition show the newspaper’s front page headline that read, “Seized... but not silenced.”
Meyer added to KSHB that he felt “relieved, vindicated, feeling like my mother didn't die in vain.” “Feeling like democracy won,” he added.
Meyer previously told The Daily Beast that the raids traumatized his 98-year-old mother, who died on Saturday afternoon after collapsing at her home.
“They showed up like the Gestapo,” he said.
The operation also sparked outrage and questions about whether the outlet’s First Amendment rights were violated, spurring the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) to take over the case on Monday. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre even expressed concern over the incident to reporters at a Wednesday briefing.
“The freedom of the press, that is a core value when we think about our democracy,” Jean-Pierre said. “The president always speaks about that,” she said, according to the Kansas City Star. “We’ll continue to reaffirm this fundamental right.”
In a statement Wednesday, the KBI said that while its investigation remains open, the agency has also determined it “will proceed independently, and without review or examination of any of the evidence seized on Friday.” Court documents obtained by KSHB on Monday show that at least five computer towers, two cell phones, and an external hard drive were taken in the raids.
“I appreciate the involvement of the KBI, which was able to step back and provide an independent look at what happened,” Rhodes said. “Nothing, however, will satisfy the damage this incident has done to the newspaper, and this step does not bring Joan Meyer back.”
On Monday, The Daily Beast obtained security footage of the raid at the Record, which showed officers laughing and making jokes as they removed computer towers and took photos of private passwords.
The security footage also confirmed that Marion County Police Chief Gideon Cody was on the scene. Cody did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday but previously told The Daily Beast that he believes “when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated.”
Meyer previously told The Daily Beast that the raids came after a confidential source leaked sensitive documents to the newspaper about local restaurateur Kari Newell. He said that while the paper did not publish a story about Newell, he did alert local police about the information.
Newell told CNN that the Record unlawfully used her credentials to gain information about her that was only available to authorities. But she admitted she was still “flabbergasted” to learn of Friday’s raid and said she had no idea it was happening.