Thursday, August 31, 2023

Kansas reporter files federal lawsuit against police chief who confiscated her personal cell phone during raid

Marion County Record raid, reporter Deb Gruver’s desk appears bottom right.
(Record screen capture of surveillance video via Kansas Reflector)

A Kansas reporter says she is standing up for journalists across the country by filing a federal lawsuit against the police chief who confiscated her cellphone as part of a raid on the Marion County Record, reports Josh Funk of The Associated Press. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday. “Deb Gruver believes Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody violated her constitutional rights when he abruptly snatched her personal cellphone out of her hands during a search where officers also seized computers from the Marion County Record’s office, according to the lawsuit. That Aug. 11 search and two others conducted at the homes of the newspaper’s publisher and a City Council member have thrust the town into the center of a debate over the press protections in the First Amendment."

In previous statements, Cody said the search was prompted by a complaint from a local restaurant owner who claimed reporters used illegal means to access her driving record, which included DUI arrest. Gruver’s filing indicates the raid went well beyond the warrant’s scope. “The lawsuit says that the warrant expressly said that the search was supposed to focus only on equipment that was used to access those records, which was done by another reporter at the paper. But after Cody handed Gruver a copy of the warrant and she told him that she needed to call the publisher, he quickly grabbed her personal phone,” Funk writes. “One of the officers even read Gruver, another reporter and an office administrator their Miranda rights before forcing them outside in the heat to watch the three-hour search.”

According to Funk's report, "Legal experts believe the raid on the newspaper violated a federal privacy law or a state law shielding journalists from having to identify sources or turn over unpublished material to law enforcement." While authorities have returned the Record's computers and cellphones, Record Publisher Eric Meyer said it would use a forensic examination "to find out whether law enforcement had accessed or reviewed any of their records." 

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