U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Kansas reporter files suit after phone seized in newsroom raid

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 11, 2023
Marion, Kansas
Case number
Case Status
Type of case
Equipment Seized
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
August 11, 2023

Marion County Record reporter Phyllis Zorn, far left, filed a federal lawsuit on Feb. 6, 2024, alleging her constitutional rights were violated during a raid on the paper’s newsroom in August 2023.


Marion County Record reporter Phyllis Zorn had her personal cellphone seized by local law enforcement as they executed a search warrant on the Kansas newspaper’s offices on Aug. 11, 2023. In February 2024, she filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the law enforcement officials involved in the raid, alleging violations of her First and Fourth amendment rights.

A copy of the search warrant, obtained by the Kansas Reflector, showed that 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. Marion Police Department officers and Marion County sheriff’s deputies executed the warrant within two hours of its approval by a Marion County District Court magistrate judge, ordering staff to leave the office as equipment was seized.

In September, however, the Record discovered in body camera footage captured during the raid that Marion police knew at the time how the paper had obtained the information — through a former friend of Newell’s.

In the recording, the Record reported, then Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody tells 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 cellphone was involved in the document viewing or verification; Zorn says no.

Despite this, Cody not only confiscated the computer Zorn had indicated but also directed the seizure of personal cellphones belonging to Zorn and her fellow reporter Deb Gruver, neither of which are listed in the search warrant. Law enforcement also seized three of the Record’s computers and computers at the paper’s co-owners’ home.

The sole copy of the document in question, the Record noted, was left untouched on a desk a few feet away from one of the confiscated computers.

Gruver, who alleged on Facebook that Cody injured her finger when he “forcibly yanked” the phone from her hand, has since filed a federal suit against him for First and Fourth amendment violations, alleging that the raid and the seizure of her phone were retaliation for her investigation into allegations of misconduct by Cody.

In a response to Gruver’s complaint, Cody claimed that he and other law enforcement officers confiscated the newsroom’s computers and Zorn’s cellphone because it was taking hours to download the newsroom’s data onto the sheriff’s office’s equipment.

Cody initially defended the legality of the raid on Facebook, but resigned in October several days after being suspended, the Record reported.

Record Editor and 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 resigned from the paper after viewing the body camera footage, according to the Record. Joan Meyer, a co-owner and correspondent for the Record at whose home law enforcement executed the second warrant, passed away the day after the raid, which the Record attributed in part to the stress of the experience.

An Aug. 16 court order mandated that police return all equipment seized in the raid, but a separate USB drive that law enforcement had used to copy the newspaper’s computer files was not returned until Aug. 30, after the paper’s attorney discovered it on an inventory list released by the Marion District Court.

On Feb. 6, 2024, Zorn filed a federal suit against Cody, the city of Marion, the Board of Marion County Commissioners, various members of law enforcement involved in the raid and a former mayor.

“The defendants are co-conspirators in an unconstitutional effort to deny Ms. Zorn her rights under the First and Fourth Amendments,” Zorn alleges in her complaint, arguing the raid was an act of retaliation for Zorn’s exercise of her First Amendment rights, and that the seizure of her phone and computer without any evidence that they had been used to commit crimes exceeded the scope of the warrant.

Zorn adds that within days of the raid, her Grand Mal seizures returned after a five-year reprieve. “The seizures have been debilitating,” her complaint notes, “and have led to extreme depression and anxiety.”

“We just can’t have people doing this,” Zorn’s attorney Randall Rathbun told KSHB and said that he and his client are suing for $950,000 in damages “so they don’t do this again.”

Editor’s Note: The seizure of reporter Phyllis Zorn's personal cellphone was originally reported in connection with the raid of the Marion County Record. While her phone was seized during the raid, it was not part of the search warrant executed on the newsroom, which is documented here.

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