MARION, Kan. (KSNW) – The small town of Marion is dealing with all kinds of attention this week after the local newspaper said police raided the office and the publisher’s home on Friday.
The police department has not commented on camera about the investigation. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) has said they were not involved in the raid but were asked to assist in “an investigation into allegations of illegal access and dissemination of confidential criminal justice information.”
The KBI confirmed on Monday evening that it is the lead law enforcement agency investigating the incidents in Marion County. The KBI said the agency will review prior steps taken and work to determine how best to proceed with the case and forward investigative facts to the prosecutor for review.
The raid on the newspaper has prompted an outcry from national news organizations, including The Associated Press, CNN, and The New York Times. The Society of Professional Journalists has offered up to $20,000 in legal fees for the newsroom, condemning the police action.
The Marion County Record publisher, Eric Meyer, says the search was over documents the newspaper obtained regarding a local business owner’s driver’s license status. Meyer said he was confirming information he received from a tip but decided not to publish it. He maintains his employee accessed the information legally and provided it to law enforcement a week before the raid.
“We went above and beyond by notifying the police, and now they’re trying to hang us on that,” said Meyer.
The woman who said her personal information was accessed is a local restaurant owner. She says she feels her rights were violated.
“I don’t know anybody that wants their driver’s license number and their other pertinent information such as a Social Security number in the hands of anybody and everybody who has any kind of ill will to dig up dirt on you,” said Kari Newell, a Marion restaurant owner, in a phone interview with KSN.
Newell said she has received death threats and harassing messages against her business and employees. She has also been critical of the newspaper and removed Meyer and another reporter from a politician’s event at her restaurant in recent weeks.
A day after the raid, the co-owner of the newspaper, Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, died at the home she shared with her son. Meyer said his mother was distraught over the search at the home, was up all night and refused to eat.
He said his mother had worked on the paper for decades and continued writing a memories column in recent years.
“She’s a wonderful person. She’s been regarded as a local authority on the history of the community,” said Meyer.
Marion Resident Lloyd Meier has lived in the community for 12 years. He is frustrated with how the situation was handled, including the search of the homes of Meyer and Ruth Herbel, a Marion City Councilwoman.
“The signs out front say, friendly people, friendly city, it’s hell city,” said Lloyd Meier, Marion resident. “He [Meyer] is a wonderful man and his mother. That is a sin. What they done to her and not only her. What they done to Ruth Herbel, done the same thing to her and her husband. He is a sick man. They took her phone, she had to go get a phone in case of an emergency, had to buy another one, and that is terrible.”
Herbel declined to comment but confirmed to KSN that her home was also raided on Friday.
“I mean, it was just crazy to think about it happening. I just knew it was going to blow up and cause a stink in town, and we don’t really need that type of publicity,” said Marion Ogden, Marion resident and Barely Makin-It Antiques Mill owner
A normally quiet town, some worry about what this national attention could mean for Marion.
“It’s gonna be there for a long time, so if anybody is even looking for a small nice town to come and live a friendly town, they are gonna say, ‘Gosh, it’s things like that going on there in town. I don’t want to have nothing to do with it,'” said Gene Winkler, G & J Video owner.
Winkler has been in Marion since 1962. He said the town doesn’t need this kind of bad publicity.
“That’s not the kind of town we are. We are a laid-back town. We are friendly,” said Winkler. “I really hate to see this for a town our size. You know, something like this could happen in a big city, and half the people wouldn’t even know anything about it.”
KSN reached out to Marion’s mayor for comment but did not hear back. KSN has also filed an open records request for the probable cause affidavit that led police to get the warrant for the search.
On Tuesday, KSN learned that the paper will be published on Wednesday.