By The Vanguard Staff
MARION, KS – Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody was reportedly suspended Thursday, reported KAKE/ABC, about a month after the Marion Police Dept. raided the Marion County Record, and took computers, laptops, cell phones and documents from the newspaper.
A judge subsequently ordered authorities to delete all electronic copies of the newspaper’s files they had made.
Eric Meyer, the newspaper’s publisher, shared a video of officers searching the residence of his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, who co-owned the paper. Joan Meyer, the publisher’s mother, died just a day after the police raid. Vice-Mayor Ruth Herbel’s home was also raided.
In the aftermath of the raids, Meyer told KMBC his newspaper had been investigating the circumstances regarding Cody’s decision to leave the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department to take the Marion job.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) has released an update on the criminal investigation and police raid at the Marion County Record that has garnered international attention after the unprecedented raid drew the ire of the newspaper’s owner and publisher, free speech advocates and civil libertarians.
KMBC noted Aug. 11 police officers took computers, phones, and other material from the small-town newspaper located approximately 150 miles west of Kansas City.
KBI said this week, in conjunction with the Marion County Attorney, the investigation would continue without the examination of any evidence seized during the raid.
Court records show that the search warrant was carried out ostensibly because of an issue of potential identity theft and unlawful acts concerning computers.
In addition to the raid at the newspaper office in downtown Marion, police officers also, as indicated above, raided the home of co-owner Joan Meyer, 98. She died the following day.
KMBC is reporting court records show the “driving force behind the ongoing criminal investigation is Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, who applied for and obtained the search warrants signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar.”
Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey announced in a statement, said KMBC, he now believes insufficient evidence was gathered by investigators before carrying out the raid.
“Insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between the alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized,” the statement reads. “As a result, I have submitted a proposed order asking the court to release the evidence seized.”
The KBI says it will work with the Marion County Record to return of all seized items, and Meyer said he’s currently working with an attorney to potentially file a federal lawsuit in the aftermath of the raids.
The initial online search of a state website that led a now-suspended Chief Cody to raid a local weekly newspaper was legal, a spokesperson for the agency that maintains the site said, according to KMBC reporting.
After a local restaurant owner accused the Marion County Record of illegally accessing information about her, the Marion police chief led the Aug. 11 raids and said in the affidavits used to obtain the warrants “he had probable cause to believe that the newspaper and a City Council member had violated state laws against identity theft or computer crimes.
“Both the City Council member and the newspaper have said they received a copy of the document about the status of the restaurant owner’s license without soliciting it. The document disclosed the restaurant’s license number and her date of birth, information required to check the status of a person’s license online and gain access to a more complete driving record.”
The KBI reports to state Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican, while the Department of Revenue is under Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s authority. The city member whose home was raided, Ruth Herbel, was elected in 2019 and, as indicated, is the city’s vice mayor.
KMBC earlier reported police seized computers, personal cellphones and a router from the newspaper and the publisher’s home, and a laptop and iPhone from Herbel. Record Editor and Publisher Eric Meyer lived with his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, and blames the stress of the raid for her death the day after the raids.
The seized equipment was turned over to a computer forensics auditing firm hired by the newspaper’s attorney after the county attorney concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to justify its seizure. The auditor is checking the equipment to see whether materials were accessed or copied.
Legal experts, explained KMBC, “believe the police raid on the newspaper violated a federal privacy law or a state law shielding journalists from having to identify sources or turn over unpublished material to law enforcement.
“Meyer has noted that among the items seized were a computer tower and personal cellphone of a reporter who was uninvolved in the dispute with the local restaurant owner — but who had been investigating why Cody left a Kansas City, Missouri, police captain’s job in April before becoming Marion police chief,” said KMBC.
“This isn’t going to go away. And it shouldn’t,” said Genelle Belmas, an associate journalism professor at the University of Kansas. “There should be repercussions to this sort of wanton trampling of two very important laws, one state, one fed.”