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Reporters push for answers after Kansas raids on newspaper owners

Multiple raids carried out by police in a Kansas town on a newspaper and its staff continue to cause concerns over free speech rights.
Reporters push for answers after Kansas raids on newspaper owners
Posted at 8:09 PM, Aug 15, 2023

On Tuesday, Scripps News Kansas City continued its investigation into three police raids — one of which took place at a Kansas newspaper — by paying a visit to the Marion police chief who was involved.

Chief Gideon Cody, the man behind the badge, and who is behind Friday's raid on the Marion County Record, declined to comment while at his office, telling Scripps News Kansas City reporter Jessica McMaster, "Do you realize how angry KBI will be at me if I start talking about their case at this point?" 

Cody was referring to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, who took over the case.

SEE MORE: News organizations condemn police raid of Kansas newspaper

Kansas Bureau of Investigation's case?

While KBI took over the investigation on Monday, Chief Cody's name is on the affidavit seeking the warrant.

Bernie Rhodes, a Kansas City attorney representing the Marion County Record, says Cody is at the center of all of it. 

"Can he spell hypocrisy? This was his affidavit. His investigation and his search," Rhodes said. 

"He drove to the house, to personally search the house of a 98-year-old who had nothing to do with this. A woman who died the next day," Rhodes said. 

Rhodes arrived on Tuesday at the newspaper's offices, wheeling in a briefcase behind him. 

On the way in, he stopped at a memorial created on the sidewalk for Joan Meyer, the co-publisher of Marion County Record, who died one day after police raided her home.

After the raid, Cody wrote a message on Facebook defending the search and seizure writing, "The justice system that's being questioned will be vindicated."

When asked why the police didn't just issue a subpoena instead of the raids, Cody continued to defer questions to the KBI. 

Over the weekend, Rhodes sent a scathing letter to the chief demanding no one view the seized items. By Monday, KBI had taken over the case. 

"We are presently reviewing prior steps taken in the case and working to determine how best to proceed with the case," a spokesperson for the KBI said. 

"Once our thorough investigation concludes, we will forward all investigative facts to the prosecutor for review," a statement said. 

Rhodes sees the change in leadership as a positive move in the case. 

"Potentially a promising sign that we're going to have someone else involved who will handle this rationally and not be the big town bully," Rhodes said. 

As for the equipment that was seized, Rhodes said one of the items has a tracking device on it and he says he has been monitoring its movement. Rhodes thinks he knows where the items are, but did not elaborate further. 

He did reveal where he believes the seized property is not located.

"It is not with the Marion Police Department," Rhodes said. "That would not be good news."

When Rhodes was asked if authorities knew he was tracking the equipment, he said, "They do now."

A look at how it started

Before the raid, the Marion County Record received a tip about a local restaurant owner's driving record.

A staff member used a state website, with her own information, to verify the tip.

Instead of publishing a story, Eric Meyer, the owner of the paper, called the Marion Police Department.

"A week later, they (police) showed up at our doors and seized our computers," Meyer said on Monday.

When staff returned to the building, computers, cellphones and documents were gone. Staff members also reported they were read their Miranda rights.

"There was a crime committed," Rhodes said. "The crime was being a reporter. That's the only crime shown in the affidavit."

The criminal allegation in this case is identity theft. Rhodes, who is an expert in media law with 40 years of experience, said he has never had to defend a newsroom because of a police raid.

"It is the ultimate act of a local tyrant preventing a local newspaper from exposing the truth," Rhodes said. "Because we have a constitution. Apparently, the constitution doesn't apply to chief Cody."

According to the newspaper and Rhodes, staff members at the Marion County Record were also investigating Cody for tips they received based on his time as a captain in Kansas City, Missouri, with the police department there.

As for refusing to answer questions about the raid, Rhodes said Cody "has a duty to the public, to the people who pay his salary, to explain his actions." 

This story was originally published by Jessica McMaster at Scripps News Kansas City

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story stated the newspaper was based in Kansas City. This article has been updated to reflect the newspaper is in a Kansas city.

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