Police had "insufficient evidence" to raid the offices of a small Kansas newspaper —?and the seized property should be returned immediately, officials said Wednesday.
Officers raided the Marion County Record in Marion on Friday, the newspaper said, in a case that infuriated press freedom watchdogs, who claimed that the law enforcement action was a blatant violation of constitutional rights.
Police said they believed an "employee of the newspaper may have committed" a computer-based crime, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey said.
"Upon further review, however, I have come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized," Ensey said in a statement.
"As a result, I have submitted a proposed order asking the court to release the evidence seized. I have asked local law enforcement to return the material seized to the owners of the property."
A lawyer for the newspaper said he was working quickly to get the seized items back.
"Yes, I can confirm the county attorney has withdrawn the search warrant and the items seized are being released," attorney Bernie?Rhodes said. "My forensic expert is en route to Marion to retrieve them."
Neither Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody nor a representative of his agency could immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
The matter is now in the hands of state authorities with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
"At present time this 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," the KBI said in statement.
"We will work with the Marion County Record, or their representative, to coordinate the prompt return of all seized items. Once our investigation concludes we will present findings to the Marion County Attorney for review," it said.
Friday's search at the Record coincided with a raid at the home of publisher and co-owner Eric Meyer, who said computers, his cellphone and the home’s internet router were taken.
His 98-year-old mother — Record co-owner Joan Meyer, who lived in the home with him — collapsed and died Saturday, said Meyer, who blamed her death on the stress of the raid of her home.
Local restaurant owner Kari Newell accused the newspaper at a recent City Council meeting of having use illegal means to get information about a drunk driving conviction against her.
The paper has acknowledged it received the tip and tried to verify it through public records before it elected not to run a story about it. The Record published a story about Newell's statement at the City Council meeting, in which she confirmed her 2008 DUI conviction.