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Items Seized During Raid of U.S Newspaper Returned Amid Legal Controversy

After days of national controversy over the raid of a small U.S. town’s newspaper office and the publisher’s home, the items seized will be returned, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation announced on Wednesday.

An attorney for the Marion County Record, Bernie Rhodes, was quoted by CNN as saying that the local prosecutor has agreed to withdraw a search warrant executed on the newspaper on Friday and will return all seized items, answering demands of press freedom advocates who sharply condemned the police action.

The paper’s co-owner and publisher, Eric Meyer, has said he believes Friday’s raid in Marion was prompted by a story published on Wednesday about a local business owner. But authorities said they were investigating what they called “identity theft” in a search warrant.

The Marion Police Department took computers and cellphones from the office of the newspaper, and also entered the home of Meyer. The weekly newspaper serves 1,900 people in a town about 150 miles (241 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City, Missouri.

Police said they had probable cause to believe there were violations of Kansas law, including one pertaining to identity theft, according to a search warrant signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar.

The Marion raid “appears to have violated federal law, the First Amendment, and basic human decency,” Seth Stern, advocacy director for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. “Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.”

“The raid of the newspaper, The Marion County Record, has drawn condemnation from First Amendment advocates,” said The New York Times on Wednesday, noting that “it is extremely rare for law enforcement authorities in the United States to search and seize the tools to produce journalism.”

The search generated blowback from First Amendment experts, who condemned the raid and urged local law enforcement officials to return the journalists’ equipment, it added.