The police chief who led the raid on a Kansas newspaper claimed in previously unreleased court documents that a reporter either posed as someone else or lied about her intentions when she obtained a local business owner’s driving records.
But reporter Phyllis Zorn, Marion County Record editor-publisher Eric Meyer and the paper’s attorney said Sunday no laws were broken when Zorn accessed a public state website to seek information about restaurant owner Kari to get Newell.
The attack The action, carried out on August 11 and led by Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, drew international attention to the small central Kansas town, which is now at the center of a debate about it press freedoms. Police confiscated computers, personal cellphones and a router from the newspaper, but all items were released on Wednesday after the district attorney’s office came to the conclusion There wasn’t enough evidence to justify the action.
Late Saturday, attorney for the files, Bernie Rhodes, provided the Associated Press and other news outlets with copies of the affidavits used in the raid. The previously unreleased documents. They showed that Zorn’s procurement of Newell’s driver’s license was the driving force behind the raid.
Following a lead, the newspaper checked the status of Newell’s driver’s license on the Kansas Department of Treasury’s public website, as it was related to a 2008 drunk driving conviction.
Cody wrote in the affidavit that the Treasury Department told him those who downloaded the information were Records reporter Phyllis Zorn and someone by the name of “Kari Newell.” Cody wrote that he contacted Newell, who said, “Someone obviously stole her identity.”
In response, Cody wrote, “Downloading the document meant either impersonating the victim or lying about the reasons the file was sought.”
License documents are normally confidential under state law, but may be viewed in certain circumstances specified in the affidavit. The online user can request their own documentation but must provide a driver’s license number and date of birth.
The recordings may also be shared in other circumstances, for example to lawyers for use in a legal matter; for investigating insurance claims; and for statistical reporting research projects, with the restriction that the personal data will not be shared.
Meyer said Zorn did indeed contact the Treasury Department prior to her online search and was briefed on how to search records. Zorn, who was asked to respond to allegations that she used Newell’s name to obtain Newell’s personal information, said, “My response is that I visited a Kansas Department of Treasury website and got the information there. “
She added, “There was nothing illegal or wrong to my knowledge.”
Rhodes, the newspaper’s attorney, said Zorn’s actions were legal under both state and federal law. Using the person’s name “does not constitute identity theft,” Rhodes said. “It’s just the way to access that person’s record.”
The newspaper had Newell’s driver’s license number and date of birth because a source had provided them unsolicited, Meyer said. Ultimately, The Record decided not to write about Newell’s record. But when she revealed at a subsequent city council meeting that she had been driving while her license was suspended, it was reported.
The investigation into whether the newspaper violated state laws continues and is now being led by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Attorney General Kris Kobach said he did not see the KBI’s role as investigating police behavior.
Some legal experts believe in the August 11 raid violated a Federal Data Protection Act This protects journalists from having their editorial offices searched. Some also believe it broke a Kansas law that makes it harder to coerce reporters and editors to disclose their sources or unpublished material.
Cody has not responded to multiple requests for comment, including an email request on Sunday. He defended the raid in a Facebook post shortly after the raid, saying federal law protecting journalists from newsroom searches makes an exception, particularly when “there is reason to believe that the journalist is complicit in the underlying misconduct.” .
The Record received strong support from other news organizations and media groups after the raid. Meyer said it gained at least 4,000 additional subscribers, enough to double its circulation, though many of the new subscriptions are digital.
Meyer blamed the stress of the raid for the August 12 death of his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, the newspaper’s co-owner. Her funeral service took place on Saturday.
Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri.
The Associated Press receives support from several private foundations to improve its explanatory reporting on elections and democracy. Learn more about AP’s Democracy Initiative Here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.