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New documentary focuses on 98-year-old raid victim

“Does your mother love you? Do you love your mother?”

A viral video clip of Joan Meyer standing up to law enforcement officers in her living room during a raid Aug. 11 prompted Wichita Eagle visuals editor Jaime Green to produce a new 38-minute documentary, “Unwarranted: The Senseless Death of Journalist Joan Meyer,” about the Record co-owner who died a day after the raid.

“Joan’s moral outrage spoke to the humanity in me and a lot of people,” Green said.

She and colleague Travis Heying made a combined seven trips to Marion from August through November.

They filmed in Marion, Topeka, Omaha, and Kansas City, reviewed 7½ hours of body camera footage, and included interviews with seven people in their work “Unwarranted,” which had its debut today at http://kansas.com.

Green is one of two filmmakers preparing documentaries on the Aug. 11 raid and Joan Meyer.

Sharon Liese of Herizon Productions is working on a longer-form documentary that may be expanded to a multi-installment series or scripted movie available via major studios or streaming services.

“Unwarranted” includes interviews with former Marion resident Christine Laue, Wichita Eagle opinion editor Dion Lefler, Kansas Press Association executive director Emily Bradbury, Kansas City Star columnist Melinda Henneberger, Marion County Record attorney Bernard Rhodes, Marion resident Darvin Markley, and Joan’s son, Eric.

The Eagle announced Green’s documentary with this news story today, reprinted here by permission:

Eagle documentary, a ‘bit of a love letter’ to journalism, honors Joan Meyer

The Wichita Eagle

The story of the newspaper raid at the Marion County Record and the home of its owners is well known locally and nationally and even has received worldwide attention, but Wichita Eagle executive editor Michael Roehrman saw an opportunity to do something more.

“What I wanted to do was tell the story that we were in the best position to tell . . . and that was a personal story,” he said.

The result is a new 38-minute documentary called “Unwarranted: The Senseless Death of Journalist Joan Meyer.”

Meyer, whose first name is pronounced Jo-Anne, died a day after the raid on the paper and her home, which followed an investigation the Record conducted for a story that her son, publisher Eric Meyer, decided not to run.

Joan Meyer, who lived through World War II, compared the police action to what Hitler and his Gestapo would do.

The documentary is built around bodycam footage from the raid. The spitfire Joan Meyer — who was known in the community for her friendliness, not feistiness — is undeniably the star.

“Other people say it a lot more eloquently, but I keep thinking about what Eric told me,” said visuals editor Jaime Green, who spearheaded the documentary. “At 98, to go out fighting for something you believe in, it’s pretty special.”

Roehrman said the idea wasn’t to do a biography of Joan Meyer, though she was a pioneering newspaperwoman.

“We were looking at this moment in time,” he said.

Green, getting emotional after spending months collecting video interviews and poring through more than seven hours of bodycam footage, said that “honoring her legacy was really important for us.”

“Our mission throughout was to do something about her . . . then it sort of evolved to be about her legacy, which is the future of journalism and the future of democracy,” she said.

Green has worked with fellow Eagle photographer and videographer Travis Heying for 24 years, and the two collaborated on the documentary.

Heying said Green saw the bodycam footage first.

“All weekend, she kept texting me, ‘You’re never going to believe this.’ It was everything in real time, unfiltered and incredibly revealing in numerous ways,” Heying said.

The documentary weaves police footage with new interviews.

It shows, Heying said, “that Eric Meyer and Joan Meyer knew right away that what was happening was likely illegal, and they were pretty adamant stating that to police on hand.”

Though Joan Meyer is the focus, the documentarians say her story can’t be told without telling the overall story, too.

Former Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, who has since resigned, is shown talking by phone with Kari Newell, a restaurateur who accused the Record of identity theft after it accessed a public state database to verify whether she had a suspended license.

“He’s calling her and giving her updates in real time and calling her ‘honey,’ and they’re laughing about it,” Heying said.

More shocking footage, Heying said, came as police left the raid and said, “Let’s go have pizza. We earned it today.”

That, Heying said, was “even though you just witnessed them creating an enormous amount of stress and sadness and anger with Joan Meyer, who was going to be dead within 24 hours.”

“It changed how I started asking questions in those interviews,” Heying said. “We certainly give you a lot to ponder about, what led to this raid and led to . . . Joan Meyer’s death.”

Heying said the documentary reminded him of his own start in journalism “at my little hometown paper in Wyoming.”

“In a way, it’s a little bit of a love letter to small-town newspapers and journalism,” he said.

The documentary also includes work by Green’s husband, Carter, a musician who owns Greenjeans Studios in Wellington.

“He scored it frame by frame,” Jaime Green said.

He sat next to a monitor, watched the footage, “and wrote on the fly right there,” she said. “It’s just really powerful.”

In addition to working on the project with people close to her, Green said it was special to highlight a female journalist because there weren’t that many of them when Joan Meyer started to work in the 1960s after her son was in school.

Today, Green said, there are many more female journalists, “and it’s because of people like Joan.”

Green said she learned that what Joan cared for “is journalism and people standing up for the truth.”

Raid footage shows Joan, whose father once was town marshal, asking, “Where are all the good people who are supposed to stop this from happening?”

She probably could find some of them in the documentary.

Green said Joan “didn’t know it when she died that people were going to come to her aid and stand up for her, but they did.”

Last modified Dec. 21, 2023

 

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