Marion County Sheriff’s Office to destroy hard drive with data from newspaper: Lawyer

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office will hand over a copy of the evidence it cloned from devices seized during a raid on a local newspaper and then will destroy the hard drive, the paper’s attorney said late Thursday.

Bernie Rhodes, the Marion County Record’s attorney, said he will have someone witness the destruction. He plans on filing a motion Friday seeking to require the sheriff’s office to comply with the terms.

Earlier Thursday, Rhodes, who is also The Star’s attorney, said he discovered that the sheriff’s office had copied 17 gigabytes worth of data from devices that were seized Aug. 11 from the Record’s newsroom.

Days after the raid, Marion County Prosecutor Joel Ensey announced there was “insufficient evidence” for the search and said the materials must be returned.

Steve Leben, a professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, posted Thursday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that the sheriff’s office’s failure to destroy the data sooner was “very hard to understand.” He noted a judge ordered the release of the evidence seized.

”None of this seems ambiguous. Lots of mistakes have been made in this case,” Leben, who spent 27 years as a Kansas judge, posted on the platform. “But after all that had happened, and all the attention, how could officials not carry out a court order—they obtained—to release all ‘evidence seized’?”

It’s unclear what the 17 gigabytes of information contained. Rhodes said he won’t know until they get a copy of the data.

The USB drive was listed on a property receipt released by the 8th District Court, but it was not among items handed over to the paper’s forensic examiner.

The drive the information was copied onto was not obtained during the raid, but belonged to the sheriff’s office. Because the device had been used in other investigations, it could not be released to the newspaper, Rhodes said.

The town’s police department, as well as the sheriff’s office, executed search warrants at the newsroom, the home of its publisher and the house of a city councilwoman under the pretense that a reporter had illegally obtained information about the DUI conviction of a local restaurateur who applied for a liquor license.

The reporter used a driver’s license website to verify information that the Kansas Department of Revenue said is open to the public.

The sheriff’s office did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.