Kansas Newspaper Plans to Sue Police Over Raid, Citing First Amendment Violations

by | Aug 17, 2023

Kansas Newspaper Plans to Sue Police Over Raid, Citing First Amendment Violations

by | Aug 17, 2023

kansas police raid

The police department in Marion, Kansas raided a local, family-owned newspaper’s offices as well as the owner’s home in an aggressive search which myriad press groups have deemed illegal and unconstitutional. This raid may have been motivated by the paper’s investigation into the new Chief of Police and allegations that he had a history of sexual misconduct when he was a police captain in Kansas City, Missouri.

According to the Marion County Record, police forces seized their computers, staff’s file servers, and phones during the raid on Friday. Additionally, the police – including the entire five-officer force along with two sheriff’s deputies – raided the paper’s co-owner, Eric Meyer, taking his phone, computers, an internet router, and rifling through his personal bank records. The raid was carried out after a warrant was issued and signed by a local judge.

Joan Meyer, the paper’s 98-year old co-owner, was present and “tearfully watched during the raid as police not only carted away her computer and a router used by an Alexa smart speaker but also dug through her son Eric’s personal bank and investments statements to photograph them. Electronic cords were left in a jumbled pile on her floor.”

A day after the raid, “stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief after illegal police raids,” Joan Meyer who was “otherwise in good health for her age” collapsed and died at her home. Once the raid began, she was unable to eat or sleep until she passed away. Before she died, Meyer implored “These are Hitler tactics, and something has to be done.”

Eric Meyer plans to file a federal lawsuit against the police department for the raid which he says contributed to his mother’s death. The goal is “to establish a clear precedent that this sort of behavior cannot be tolerated,” he told Axios.

More than 30 major news organizations, along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, penned a letter to Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, insisting there “appears to be no justification for the breadth and intrusiveness of the search.”

On the surface, the raid seems to have been launched over a complaint by Kari Newell, a local restaurant owner. Newell accused the paper of having illegally obtained and disseminated information, after a confidential source leaked information to the paper regarding her previous conviction for a drunk driving incident.

“The source, Meyer said, provided evidence that Newell had been convicted of DUI and was driving without a license—a fact that could spell trouble for her liquor license and catering business,” according to The Daily Beast. Ultimately, the paper decided not to run the story.

Later, the paper did report on Newell’s criticism of their investigation during a city council meeting where she publicly disclosed the DUI conviction. Newell also confirmed that she drove after her license was suspended.

In the warrant, Newell is named as a victim, it also lists the reasons for the raids as suspected identity theft and “unlawful acts concerning computers.”

However, Cody was being investigated by the paper as well, although they had not published any reports regarding his potentially scandalous past which may have led him to leave his post in Kansas City. Marisa Kabas, a freelance writer/reporter and MSNBC columnist, sat down with Eric Meyer for an interview subsequent to the raid where he revealed the investigation into Cody’s past may have been a motivating factor for the raid and the searches.

What has remained unreported until now is that, prior to the raids, the newspaper had been actively investigating Gideon Cody, Chief of Police for the city of Marion. They’d received multiple tips alleging he’d retired from his previous job to avoid demotion and punishment over alleged sexual misconduct charges,” Kabas reported on her Substack where the interview is posted.

As Eric Meyer elaborates,

So the backstory that we haven’t told, because we don’t wanna get in trouble, is that we’ve been investigating [Cody]. When he was named Chief just two months ago, we got an outpouring of calls from his former co-workers making a wide array of allegations against him saying that he was about to be demoted at his previous job and that he retired to avoid demotion and punishment over sexual misconduct charges and other things.

We had half a dozen or more different anonymous sources calling in about that. Well, we never ran that because we never could get any of them to go on the record, and we never could get his personnel file. But the allegations—including the identities of who made the allegations—were on one of the computers that got seized. I may be paranoid that this has anything to do with it, but when people come and seize your computer, you tend to be a little paranoid.

…We’ve gathered a lot of information. Deb, one of our reporters, has worked for weeks on this story. And we kind of didn’t get anywhere with it. We tried to alert the city through backdoor channels that they needed to really look at his employment record…

But the Kansas City Missouri Police HR Department told us, they [the city of Marion] asked specifically for only those things in which [Cody] had been convicted and disciplinary action had been taken. And so that’s all they gave him. This action wasn’t completed. So that was where we kind of had to leave the story. They went ahead and hired him.

Bernie Rhodes, the paper’s attorney based in Kansas City, demanded – in a letter to Cody –  that police not search the computers or cellphones seized for information, as they contain confidential sources’ identities and were taken from their owners by illegal means. Rhodes has also railed against Cody for misinterpreting privacy laws and wrongly applying the to journalists.

“These are Hitler tactics,” Rhodes declared. “I can assure you that the Record will take every step to obtain relief for the damages your heavy-handed actions have already caused my client.”

Meyer said the police took “everything we have,” and the cops’ message was clear “mind your own business or we’re going to step on you.”

Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey announced on Wednesday, following his review of the search warrants, he has “come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.” Moreover, Ensey released a press statement calling for the seized property to be returned to its rightful owners. “I have submitted a proposed order asking the court to release the evidence seized. I have asked local law enforcement to return the material seized to the owners of the property,” he said.

He continued, explaining the matter remains under review until “such time as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation [KBI], the agency now in charge of the investigation, may submit any findings to this office for a charging decision. At such time, a determination will be made as to whether sufficient evidence exists under the applicable rules and standards to support a charge for any offense. It is important to note that all individuals who may be the subject of an investigation are presumed innocent until and unless a charge is proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.”

The KBI will continue its investigation without examination of any evidence seized during Friday’s raids. In a joint statement with Ensey on Wednesday, the KBI said “We will work with the Marion County Record, or their representative, to coordinate the prompt return of all seized items. Once our investigation concludes we will present findings to the Marion County Attorney for review.”

About Connor Freeman

Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on Conflicts of Interest. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as Antiwar.com and Counterpunch, as well as the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter @FreemansMind96

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