Kansas Police Chief Suspended Following Raid on Newspaper

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A stack of the Marion County Record sits in the back of the newspaper’s building, awaiting unbundling, sorting and distribution, in Marion, Kan., on Aug. 16, 2023. (John Hanna/AP Photo)

The police chief of Marion, Kansas, has been suspended following a raid on the office of a local newspaper.

Marion Mayor David Mayfield suspended Police Chief Gideon Cody on Sept. 28, according to the Marion County Record, the newspaper that was raided in mid-August, sparking claims of abuse of power.

The Marion Police Department has confirmed Mr. Cody’s suspension to several media outlets.

The Marion County Record reported that City Administrator Brogan Jones circulated an email to the city council notifying them of Mr. Cody’s suspension.

The newspaper also reported that Mr. Mayfield was determined to wait on a decision on the suspension until the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) had concluded its investigation on the raids, which also targeted the home of the city’s vice mayor.

However, KBI has yet to release the report to the public and it’s not clear if the mayor had been briefed on the status of the investigation before making his decision.

The Epoch Times has reached out to the mayor’s office and to the KBI with requests for clarification and comment, but received no reply by press time.

KBI spokesperson Melissa Underwood was cited by the Marion County Record as saying that the investigation “remains ongoing” and the case findings will be presented to the county attorney when it concludes.

Mr. Cody did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times, but he said earlier via email that he believes the search was justified as there was suspicion of identity theft and illegal use of a computer.

An empty spot on reporter Phyllis Zorn’s desk shows where the tower for her computer sat before law enforcement officers seized it in a raid on the Marion County Record, in Marion County, Kan., on Aug. 13, 2023. (John Hanna/AP Photo)

‘Get Out of My House’

On Aug. 11, the Marion County Record newsroom, its publisher Eric Meyer’s home, and Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel’s home were searched by Marion police officers and sheriff’s deputies, who seized personal cell phones and computers.

The raids were tied to a complaint from local restaurant owner Kari Newell, who accused the Marion County Record of illegally accessing and disseminating sensitive information about her driving record.

The police chief said in court documents that he believed a Marion County Record reporter had committed identity theft by accessing the records.

He wrote in affidavits (pdf) that “downloading the document involved either impersonating the victim or lying about the reasons why the record was being sought.”

But reporter Phyllis Zorn, Marion County Record editor and publisher Eric Meyer, and the newspaper’s attorney have all insisted that no laws were broken when Ms. Zorn accessed a public state website for information on Ms. Newell.

Mr. Meyer said that the police search on his home, where his 98-year-old mother was present during the raid, caused her to die due to stress several days after the incident.

Video recently emerged showing Mr. Meyer’s mother, Joan Meyer, confronting police officers as they searched the home.

“Get out of my house … I don’t want you in my house!” she said at one point. “Don’t touch any of that stuff! This is my house!” she said at another.

‘Gestapo Tactics’

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mr. Meyer expressed criticism of the law enforcement action that he believes was responsible for his mother’s death.

“This is Gestapo tactics from World War II,” he said of the raid, which has been criticized by the Washington-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and dozens of media organizations for allegedly having interfered with the paper’s First Amendment-protected newsgathering.

Press freedom watchdogs and others have condemned the raid, which was unusual as news organizations are largely protected from government intrusion under the First Amendment’s free press guarantees.

In a letter (pdf) to Mr. Cody, attorneys on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said the raid seemed overly broad and intrusive and that it may have broken the law.

The letter urged Mr. Cody to immediately return any seized equipment and records to the newspaper and launch an independent review into the department’s actions.

The seized items were later returned, but the KBI said it would continue the investigation into the circumstances of the raids.

From The Epoch Times

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