'This is a disaster': Former police chief under scrutiny after raid on local newspaper

MARION, KS — A raid on a Marion, Kansas newspaper has led to serious allegations of constitutional violations with a lawsuit underway targeting the former Police Chief Gideon Cody, current Interim Police Chief Zach Hudlin, the former mayor, and city and county officials.

The lawsuit as reported by Politico has been raised by Phyllis Zorn, a staff writer for The Marion County Record. Zorn is seeking $950,000, alleging the raid against the newsroom caused her physical and mental health issues and violated her constitutional rights of freedoms of speech and press and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Marion County Record and the home of its publisher Eric Meyer were reportedly raided on August 11, 2023, with equipment and personal cell phones seized by police. Cody, the Chief of Marion Police at that time, claimed the department was investigating allegations of identity theft and other crimes related to investigative reporting on a local restauranteur.

The outlet reported that per the lawsuit, then-Chief Cody was "infuriated" by investigations into his background by the newspaper's reporters before his tenure as chief that began in May 2023. The Tucson Sentinel explained that a restauranteur sought to acquire a liquor license and one of The Marion County Record's reporters was digging into the restaurant owner's drunken driving record. 

By the time the dust settled, The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the Kansas Department of Revenue, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, the Office of the State Fire Marshal, the county attorney, and a magistrate judge would all be involved in the evolving scandal.

According to the Sentinel, the lawsuit alleged that Zorn was on Cody's “enemies list" for reportedly being a part of an investigation into Cody's past, including statements from his former colleagues at the Kansas City Police Department. 

Cody allegedly attempted to pursuade Zorn to start her own newspaper, which he would fund, purportedly as an attempted bribe for her to ignore the compiled data against him. The data included information that Cody was facing demotion after being accused of "offensive behavior" and creating a "hostile work environment." It was also reported that Cody drove over a dead body at a crime scene.

Reporter Deb Gruver filed a separate lawsuit in August of 2023, alleging "emotional and physical injury" as a result of the raid. She also said Cody turned off his body camera while he was reviewing the information Gruver had compiled against him.

The raid would thrust the small Kansas town into the national spotlight after Meyer's 98-year-old mother, with whom he shared a home and who is also co-owner of the newspaper, tragically died a day after the home was searched. He has attributed her death to the stress from the search.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation took over the case from the Marion Police Department and has engaged their colleagues from neighboring Colorado to investigate the alleged civil rights violations. Results of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation probe are pending.

As noted by Politico, Zorn's lawsuit states that the newspaper was tipped off with a copy of a state document indicating the restaurant owner's driver's license was suspended for drunk driving. The Paper then reportedly verified the document against an online, public state database. Meyer even emailed Cody a week prior to the raid regarding the newspaper's verification of the document.

The lawsuit argues that the acquisition and verification of the document was "clearly legal."

In the aftermath, Cody resigned from his office after local news outlet KSHB reported that he communicated with the restauranteur and advised them to delete their text messages. He had been suspended a week before his resignation.

Meyer told reporters that neither he nor anyone in Marion sought the type of attention that has resulted. “I mean, we’ve become the laughingstock of the free world, really, in terms of we’ve got these Keystone Cops and the judge who doesn’t know anything and had drunk driving arrests, and prosecutors who can’t take time to read stuff, and city council members who don’t answer questions,” he said.
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