U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Kansas newspaper editor’s home raided by local law enforcement

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 11, 2023
Location
Marion, Kansas
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
Yes

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Journalist
Legal Order Venue
State
SECURITY FOOTAGE COURTESY OF MARION COUNTY RECORD

Kansas law enforcement officers execute a search warrant on the home of Marion County Record co-owners Joan Meyer, second from left, and Eric Meyer, not pictured, on Aug. 11, 2023.

— SECURITY FOOTAGE COURTESY OF MARION COUNTY RECORD
October 2, 2023 - Update

Police chief in Kansas raid resigns; paper reports on new bodycam footage

Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, who spearheaded the August 2023 raid on the offices of the Marion County Record and the home of the Kansas newspaper’s co-owners, resigned on Oct. 2, 2023, several days after he was suspended, the Record reported.

Just prior to his resignation, on Sept. 30, the Record also reported that newly reviewed body camera footage captured during the raid showed Cody reading files in reporter Deb Gruver’s desk drawer, even though Gruver was not mentioned in the warrant application for the raid.

While reading the files, one of which included information on a confidential source in an investigation of the police chief, Cody is reported to have said, “Hmm. Keeping a personal file on me. I don’t care.”

Record Publisher Eric Meyer previously told The Kansas City Star that prior to the raid the weekly newspaper had been investigating Cody’s background and allegations of wrongdoing.

Gruver is currently suing Cody in federal court for violations of her First and Fourth Amendment rights, claiming that both the raid and Cody’s confiscation of her phone were retaliation for Gruver’s investigation into his alleged prior misconduct.

The footage also indicates other discrepancies between law enforcement’s actions during the raid and Cody’s stated reasons for undertaking it. According to the search warrant, the raid was part of an investigation into the Record’s alleged unlawful use of a computer and identity theft to obtain information about local restaurant owner Kari Newell’s prior DUI conviction and driving record.

The body camera footage reveals, however, that Marion police knew at the time how the paper had obtained the information — through a former friend of Newell’s.

The Record recounts how, in the recording, Cody tells reporter Phyllis Zorn that “we’re pretty confident we know that [the former friend] delivered it.” Zorn tells Cody which computer she used to view the document and then verify it via the state Department of Revenue website. Cody asks Zorn if her cell phone was involved in the document viewing or verification; Zorn says no.

Despite this, the Record pointed out, Cody did not stop at confiscating the computer Zorn had indicated. He directed the seizure of three of the Record’s computers and computers at the paper’s co-owners’ home, as well as Zorn’s and Gruver’s cell phones. At the same time, the paper said that the sole copy of the document in question, on a desk a few feet away from one of the confiscated computers, was left untouched.

In a recent filing responding to Gruver’s complaint, Cody claims that he and other law enforcement officers confiscated the newsroom’s computers and Zorn’s cell phone “only after hours of failed attempts by the deputy to secure data from the computers onsite [because] the wireless internet and other data was so slow to download onto the deputy’s equipment.” They decided, he said, that it would be faster “to merely take any equipment that was possibly involved in the illegal download back to the deputy’s office and search the equipment at his station.”

The footage also shows Cody on the phone with Newell during the raids, informing her that there was information he could share with her but that he did not want to put it in writing in a text to her, the paper added.

Meanwhile, Gruver resigned from the paper after viewing the body camera footage, the Record reported. “I think watching [it] was a mistake for me,” she wrote in her resignation letter. “I need to do what’s best for my mental health, which isn’t the greatest at the moment.”

The Record added that Gruver said that “she no longer felt comfortable in Marion because some residents didn’t seem to appreciate the journalism she and the Record were attempting to provide.”

Zorn, too, suffered health consequences from the stress of the raid, the Record reported. And Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, a co-owner and correspondent for the newspaper, died from sudden cardiac arrest the day after the raid of her home. The Record attributed her death in part to the stress of the raid.

August 30, 2023 - Update

Police turn over photos taken during raid on Marion County publishers’ home

Photos taken by police during their raids of the Marion County Record’s newsroom and publishers’ home were turned over on Aug. 30, 2023, the paper reported.

In addition to seizing computers, a hard drive and the personal cellphone of the Record’s Editor and Publisher Eric Meyer during the Aug. 11 raid on the home he shared with his mother, the paper’s co-owner Joan Meyer, police captured images of his belongings.

The Sheriff’s Office relinquished the photos taken at the home and the newspaper office as part of an Aug. 29 court order.

The outlet’s attorney, Bernard J. Rhodes, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker via email that, to his knowledge, everything seized in the raid has now been returned.

August 16, 2023 - Update

Kansas county attorney withdraws search warrant, returns seized equipment

On Aug. 16, 2023, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey released a statement withdrawing the search warrant used to raid the home of the Marion County Record’s co-owners and authorizing the release of seized equipment and reporting materials, citing “insufficient evidence” to justify the search. Ensey also asked the court to release the affidavits filed to obtain the warrants.

Three computers, a hard drive and the personal cellphone of Editor and Publisher Eric Meyer were seized when local law enforcement searched his home on Aug. 11 as part of an investigation into alleged unlawful use of a computer and identity theft. Newspaper and personal equipment, as well as reporting materials, were also seized during a simultaneous raid of the newspaper’s offices.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said that it is continuing investigation independently, but without review of any seized materials.

Bernie Rhodes, the attorney representing the Record, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that law enforcement has said the equipment was not searched. He said he plans to have a forensics expert confirm that the devices were not accessed or altered.

“This is a promising first step to stop the hemorrhaging from the violation of the paper’s First Amendment rights, but it does nothing to cure the damages done by the original illegal search,” Rhodes said, adding that they are actively contemplating a civil rights lawsuit.

“While I’m pleased with today’s developments, we have a long way to go to establish that justice is served,” Rhodes said.

The Record published its first edition since the raid on Aug. 16, KWCH reported, with the headline article titled, “Seized… but not silenced.”

August 11, 2023

Local law enforcement executed a search warrant on the home of the owners and editor/publisher of the Marion County Record on Aug. 11, 2023. A simultaneous raid on the Kansas newspaper’s offices and equipment seizure jeopardized its ability to publish its upcoming weekly edition.

A copy of one of the search warrants, obtained by the Kansas Reflector, shows that the searches were undertaken as part of an investigation into alleged unlawful use of a computer and identity theft.

According to the Record, however, when one of the paper’s reporters requested a copy of the probable cause affidavit that summarizes the circumstances and evidence supporting the warrant, the district court issued a signed statement that there wasn’t one on file.ile.

The Record reported that during an Aug. 7 city council meeting a local restaurant owner, Kari Newell, had accused the newspaper of illegally obtaining information that she had a prior DUI conviction and had driven without a license, as well as supplying the information to Marion Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel.

In an article responding to the allegations, Editor and Publisher Eric Meyer said that a source had reached out with the information via Facebook, and had independently sent it to Herbel as well. The Record had verified the allegations through a public website but decided not to publish it, instead alerting the Marion Police Department that the source may have obtained the information illegally.

The morning of Aug. 11, Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar signed search warrants for the newsroom and Meyer’s home — where he lives with his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, a co-owner and correspondent for the Record. According to the Reflector, Marion Police Department officers and Marion County sheriff’s deputies executed the warrants within hours.

Joan Meyer passed away the following day, which the Record attributed in part to the stress of the raid. According to court documents obtained by KSHB, officers seized three computers, including a router, Eric Meyer’s cellphone, a storage device and reporting materials.

Meyer, a veteran reporter from the Milwaukee Journal and former journalism professor at the University of Illinois, told The Kansas City Star following the raid that the Record had also been investigating Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody’s background and allegations of wrongdoing.

Cody, who did not immediately respond to a request for further information, told the Star that the lack of an article about the allegations shows they had no basis. “If it was true, they would’ve printed it,” Cody said.

On Aug. 14, a coalition of more than 30 press freedom organizations sent a letter to Cody condemning the raids and calling for the return of the newspaper’s equipment and reporting materials.

Freedom of the Press Foundation, which operates the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, called the raid “alarming.”

“Based on the reporting so far, the police raid of the Marion County Record on Friday appears to have violated federal law, the First Amendment, and basic human decency,” said Director of Advocacy Seth Stern. “Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.”

In a statement released on Facebook, Cody defended the legality of the raid and said that the Marion Police Department had received assistance from local and state investigators.

“It is true that in most cases, [the federal Privacy Protection Act] requires police to use subpoenas, rather than search warrants, to search the premises of journalists unless they themselves are suspects in the offense that is the subject of the search,” Cody wrote.

Meyer, who could not immediately be reached for comment, told the Record that while the paper’s attorneys are working to have the equipment returned, they also plan to file a federal lawsuit to ensure that such a raid never happens again.

“Our first priority is to be able to publish next week,” Meyer said, “but we also want to make sure no other news organization is ever exposed to the Gestapo tactics we witnessed today. We will be seeking the maximum sanctions possible under law.”

This article was updated to reflect reporting from KSHB around the type of equipment seized.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].