A photograph purportedly shows Marion (Kans.) Police Chief Gideon Cody “directing and participating in the raid” of the Marion County Record newspaper (via federal court filing). Inset: FILE – A stack of the weekly edition of the Marion County Record, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, in Marion, Kan. The newspaper’s front page was dedicated to two stories about a raid by local police on its offices and the publisher’s home on Aug. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
A reporter who says she was targeted for retribution by a police raid of the weekly local newspaper where she worked has sued the police chief for what she says are violations of her constitutional rights.
Police in Marion County, Kansas, carried out a raid on the offices of the Marion County Record newspaper on Aug. 11. The raid was ostensibly linked to accusations from area restaurant owner Kari Newell that a reporter from the Record had illegally accessed public records containing her driving history — a move Newell says was retribution for her kicking two Record employees out of a political fundraising event at one of her establishments.
Reporter Deb Gruver — who was not the one accused of illegally accessing the public records — was in the Record office at the time of the raid, led by Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody.
“Chief Cody first handed Ms. Gruver the Warrant when he arrived, and as she began to read it, she began to access her personal cellular phone – telling Chief Cody that she needed to call [publisher] Eric Meyer,” the complaint says. “Chief Cody responded by reaching over the papers and snatching the phone out of her hand.”
According to Gruver, who joined the paper in 2022 and had previously written a glowing review of one of Newell’s restaurants, there was “no factual basis to believe Ms. Gruver’s personal cellular phone was evidence of the alleged crime, or any crime,” as the phone “was not verified as having ‘been used to access the Kansas Department of Revenue records website.’”
Instead, Gruver alleges, it was her affiliation with the record that sparked Cody’s attention.
“Such acts were done by Chief Cody in retaliation for Ms. Gruver exercising her protected rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as a reporter for the Record, which protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” the complaint says. “Upon belief, Ms. Gruver’s affiliation with the Marion County Record, which had investigated his alleged prior acts of misconduct and recently published the story about Ms. Newell’s prior driving history, sparked Chief Cody’s desire for retaliation against her personally, in violation of her First Amendment rights.”
According to the lawsuit, the raid — which resulted in the seizure of computer towers, a server tower, personal cellphones, laptops, a router and an external hard drive — was itself retaliation for the reporter accessing Newell’s records, which revealed that her driver’s license had been suspended in 2008 for a drunken-driving conviction and other offenses.
Gruver says she was physically injured when Cody grabbed the phone from her hands.
“In seizing Ms. Gruver’s personal cellular phone despite the seizure exceeding the scope of the unreasonable and unlawful search warrant, Chief Cody acted in unreasonable and unnecessarily violent fashion, causing injury to plaintiff Gruver’s rights and her person,” the complaint says.
Gruver notes that she and reporter Phyllis Zorn — who had accessed Newell’s public driving record — were read their Miranda rights as Cody watched, although they were never arrested.
The complaint says that when Gruver went to retrieve her cellphone, Cody appeared to acknowledge that the reporter hadn’t committed any crime.
“Ms. Gruver spoke with Chief Cody inside the office and requested her phone back — telling Chief Cody she had nothing to do with any search of the driving records,” the complaint says.
The police chief’s response?
“‘I actually believe you,’ Chief Cody replied with a grin,” the complaint says.
The reporter alleges that Cody’s raid amounts to a “malicious and recklessly indifferent violation” of her First Amendment free speech rights and Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
“No reasonable officer in Chief Cody’s position would have believed the seizure of Ms. Gruver’s personal cellular phone constitutionally complied with the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit notes that on the same day that Marion officials raided the Record’s office, police also went to the home of the paper’s co-owners, publisher Eric Meyer and his 98-year-old mother Joan Meyer.
“Joan Meyer died the following day at 2:53 p.m. of sudden cardiac arrest,” the lawsuit says.
Shortly following the raid, Cody acknowledged that federal law normally requires law enforcement to get subpoenas — not just search warrants — before searching newsrooms, but indicated that an exception might apply in this situation because “there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing.”
Gruver seeks at least $75,000 in damages, plus costs and attorneys’ fees.
Cody did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment on the lawsuit.
Read the lawsuit, below.
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