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Gone

And now Gideon Cody, the police chief in Marion, Kansas, who was suspended after ordering a raid on the local newspaper and two private homes, has resigned. The Associated Press reports.

Earlier coverage.

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Kansas chief who ordered newspaper raid is suspended

Gideon Cody, the police chief who ordered the raid on the offices of the Marion County Record in Kansas as well as two private homes, has at long last been suspended. The raid — which may have led to the death of the paper’s 98-year-old retired publisher, Joan Meyer — was supposedly related to the Record’s having received confidential records about a local restaurateur. But it came at a time when the paper was investigating allegations of sexually charged and abusive behavior by Cody in his previous job. The Record’s Phyllis Zorn has the details.

Earlier coverage.

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Four indicted on federal harassment charges targeting NHPR journalists

A federal grand jury has indicted four men from New Hampshire in connection with what authorities allege was “a conspiracy to harass and intimidate two journalists employed by New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR).” The case involves vandalism against the homes of NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian, her parents, and her editor, Dan Barrick. The story has attracted national attention, including a rather harrowing account last June in The New York Times (free link).

There’s an interesting angle to the latest news. In June, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston announced that three men had been charged: Tucker Cockerline, 32, of Salem, Eric Labarge, 46, of Nashua; and Michael Waselchuck, 35, of Seabrook. Now a fourth suspect has been added to the list: Keenan Saniatan, 36, of Nashua. Each could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

All of this is related to reporting by NHPR that Eric Spofford, the politically connected founder New Hampshire’s largest network of addiction treatment centers, had engaged in sexual harassment. The suspects are allegedly associates of Spofford, who has not been charged. In fact, Spofford is claiming libel in a lawsuit against Chooljian and NHPR. The state judge in the case, Daniel St. Hilaire, raised First Amendment concerns by ordering NHPR to turn over documents so that he could determine whether they supported Spofford’s libel claim. The libel suit, however, is now on hold, according to Nancy West of the investigative website InDepthNH, because St. Hilaire has gone on leave for an unspecified reason.

The vandalism that was allegedly committed by the four suspects was frightening and vile; if you want to read the gory details, it’s all in the press release.

Update: West of InDepthNH tells me that Judge St. Hilaire has been back from leave for a while and that she’ll soon be writing about the latest developments in Spofford’s libel case.

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Still more on the saga of the Marion County Record

The Washington Post has published an excellent all-known-facts piece on the police raid against the Marion County Record. Reporters Jonathan O’Connell, Paul Farhi and Sofia Andrade pull together all the various threads of this saga — the Record’s investigation into Police Chief Gideon Cody’s past, the question of whether the paper may have broken the law in accessing a local restaurateur’s driving history, and the Record’s reputation for hard-hitting journalism in a community where that’s not always popular. Here’s a free link.

Earlier coverage.

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Kansas publisher tells SPJ: ‘We might even report a little more aggressively because of this’

What is the role of a community newspaper? Is it to be loved? Or is it to hold the local power structure to account?

Maybe it’s a little bit of both, according to Eric Meyer, publisher and editor of the Marion County Record, the Kansas weekly that was recently subjected to a police raid on its office, on the home Meyer shared with his mother, retired Record publisher Joan Meyer, and the city’s vice mayor. Joan Meyer, 98, died the day after the raid, possibly due to stress stemming from the assault on her home.

Authorities, who apparently broke federal law in conducting the raid without first obtaining a subpoena, were supposedly seeking documents that it claimed the Record had illegally downloaded from a state website. The Record says it was on solid legal ground, and a state prosecutor ordered that the documents be returned to the paper. But the Record was also reporting on allegations of sexual harassment by Police Chief Gideon Cody in his previous job at the Kansas City Police Department, which may have been the real motivation the raid.

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Meyer, Record reporter Deb Gruver and Gabe Rottman, a lawyer with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which put together a letter signed by news organizations and press-freedom organizations, spoke last week at a virtual event organized by the New England chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, moderated by SPJ national president Claire Regan. You can watch the entire conversation above, but here are some edited and condensed highlights.

Eric Meyer

On a home security video that shows Joan Meyer yelling at the officers who’d invaded her home, getting up in their faces and calling two of them “assholes”: “If you watch the video clip, you would say that’s a formidable woman. And she was also a very kind and gentle person who loved to help people and everything else. But she saw an injustice and she was angry about it.”

On Cody’s motives in ordering the raid: “The chief motivation is that Deb Gruver had information about him from his former co-workers that indicated he probably was somebody you wouldn’t want to have hired. To our discredit, we did not run the story [until after the raid]. We never could get anyone named on the record. This is a guy who went from Kansas City, Missouri, earning $110,000 a year, supervising dozens of people, to Marion, Kansas, supervising two people and earning $60,000 a year. You don’t usually take a $50,000-a-year pay cut, and a huge reduction in supervision, one year before you could have retired from the Kansas City Police Department. So there’s a lot of suspicion here.”

On reports such as this one in The New York Times that some people in Marion thought the Record was overly negative in its coverage: “If negative things happen, you’re going to have a lot of negative news in the paper. It is a little difficult because you have to live in the community. And I’ve been accused of trying to kill the town — that I came back here to kill the town. Well, what newspaper owner would ever want to kill the town that their newspaper is in? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Deb Gruver

On having her cellphone physically taken from her and being forced to stand outside in the heat while officers searched the Record’s office: “I poked my head in and said, ‘Hey, it’s hot out here.’ And we’re sweating. And I’m not feeling very well. And he [one of the officers] said, ‘Yeah, you don’t look very good.’ So I said, ‘In the bottom drawer, there should be some bubbly water or whatever. Can you find it? I’d like to get something to drink.’ And it takes 20 minutes for him to get permission from Chief Cody to do that. I’m 56. I have hot flashes. My blood sugar was down because I hadn’t had anything to eat. There was no compassion shown at all. They were just enjoying that little bit of tiny power that they thought they had for a minute. And I despise him [Cody] now. I mean, I didn’t like him from the get-go. But I’m afraid of him. I’ll be honest, I’m afraid of him. I think that he is capable of doing something far worse to me. And I don’t feel great about being anywhere where he’s going to be.”

Gabe Rottman

On how unusual the raid on the Record was: “It’s kind of an odd case where the underlying facts are slightly immaterial, in the sense that these raids are so exceptionally rare that we don’t even track them. I can think of maybe four or five incidents that are possibly similar. Unless it was a journalist at the newspaper who was involved in criminal activity, unrelated to news, this just doesn’t happen. There’s a federal law in place, the Privacy Protection Act, which limits searches. There is no subpoena-first rule when you’re talking about reporting. You can only get it if you’ve got probable cause that the target committed a crime, and the crime can’t be related to news-gathering, with exceptions for national security leaks and a couple of others, neither of which are applicable here.”

Eric Meyer

On what’s next for the Record: “We’re going to publish the newspaper, and we’re going to still report the news. We might even report a little more aggressively because of this. I like to tell our staff, ‘We’re not competing with Facebook, we’re not even competing with another publication. We’re competing with Netflix. We’ve got to have something that is worth somebody’s time to read.’ And we’ve tried to do that. Our average website visit lasts about 10 and a half minutes, which, if you talk to most of the people who record such things, is a pretty phenomenal number. It’s better than The New York Times gets. And we try to give you something good solid that you can sit down with and enjoy reading.”

Earlier coverage.

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Former colleague of Kansas police chief calls him the ‘worst commander’ ever

The Marion County Record has dropped the bomb on Police Chief Gideon Cody, whose officers recently raided the newspaper’s office and two private homes. The Record’s Deb Gruver writes that the paper had held off from publication because it couldn’t get anyone to go on the record — but that decision was reversed after other news organizations began to report similar stories, also based on anonymous sources.

Cody left the Kansas City Police Department, where he was a captain, after he was demoted for harassing and demeaning his subordinates. Perhaps the most explosive section in Gruber’s story involves Cody’s unhappiness at having been transferred while he was under investigation:

Multiple sources recalled a conversation in which Cody was talking about his career and mentioned how much he loathed working in communications, or dispatch.

Cody said that if they hadn’t transferred him when they did, he would have found “the skinniest and prettiest girl down there and f*cked her” to force a move.

“I was quite flabbergasted and didn’t know how to respond to that,” a source said. “All respect that was there was lost.”

One source later transferred to another unit.

“As soon as I left his command, I was happy. It felt like a great weight had been lifted off of me,” he said.

Gruver added that one source called Cody “the absolute worst commander I ever experienced” and quoted him as saying: “His ego would not allow him to listen to what anyone below his rank said … a common characteristic of toxic/ego-centric commanders.”

The Record has also posted about a minute and a half of security video (above) showing the officers in the midst of illegally (that is, without the required subpoena) searching the home of Joan and Eric Meyer, the publishers of the Record. Joan Meyer, who was Eric’s 98-year-old mother, died the next day. She comes across as pretty feisty in the video, but she was no match for Cody’s heavily armed men.

At no point have I believed the cover story for the raid — that police were searching for evidence that the Record had illegally obtained documents about a local restaurateur’s history of drunken driving. It has seemed clear from the beginning that Cody was looking to intimidate the Meyers to stop their reporters from probing into his sleazy past in Kansas City. And now it’s all starting to come out.

Earlier coverage.

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More details emerge about the police raid against a Kansas newspaper

We’re starting to learn more about why police in Marion, Kansas, raided a newspaper office and two private homes, possibly leading to the death of the newspaper’s 98-year-old co-publisher, Joan Meyer. It’s pretty thin gruel, and it certainly doesn’t justify the police department’s violation of federal law in not seeking a subpoena before making off with the Marion County Record’s computers, cellphones and other materials.

According to Jonathan O’Connell and Jon Swaine of The Washington Post (free link), Phyllis Zorn, a reporter for the Record, may have broken privacy laws by downloading documents pertaining to a local restaurateur’s history of drunken driving and driving without a license. She obtained those records from a state database, possibly by claiming to be the restaurant owner or by lying about her reasons for seeking the documents. (Jim Salter of The Associated Press has a similar story.)

This story has been convoluted from the start, and I’m not going to try to parse all of it here. You can read the Post’s article if you’re interested in the details, but here is some pertinent information: Zorn already had a copy of the documents, given to her by an enemy of the restaurant owner, Kari Newell, and was using the state database to confirm their authenticity. The Record’s publisher, Eric Meyer, reportedly told Newell the paper would not use the records for a story because of the way Zorn had obtained them — although some of the details were published anyway because they came out at a city council meeting. Meyer and Zorn have both denied that the Record broke any laws.

The local prosecutor has ordered that the materials seized by police be returned to the Record.

State authorities are said to be investigating the newspaper’s actions but not those of the police department. That’s fine, but the U.S. Justice Department needs to undertake its own investigation.

In other developments:

Danielle Kaye of NPR reports that the Record has compiled an admirable record over the years for its tough watchdog journalism. “Founded in 1869,” she writes, “the paper is known for its hard-hitting coverage of local government decisions and holding people in positions of power accountable.”

• In The New York Times, Kevin Draper writes (free link) that the Record’s scrappy brand of local journalism is controversial among some local residents — especially since Eric Meyer came home several years ago from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he had been a reporter and editor, to take charge of the family business. Draper asks: “What is the appropriate relationship between a community and a local news organization, and what duty, if any, does it have to be a booster for the places it covers?”

• Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, who signed the search warrant used to in the raid, has her own history of drunken driving, reports Chance Swaim of The Wichita Eagle. Viar “was arrested at least twice for DUI in two different Kansas counties in 2012, a Wichita Eagle investigation found.”

• The Kansas City Star has confirmed earlier reporting by Marisa Kabas of The Handbasket that Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody left his previous job at the Kansas City Police Department after being accused of sexual misconduct. The Star’s paywall appears to be impenetrable, but Kabas writes that the Star found Cody was demoted after he allegedly disparaged a female officer and made sexist comments. Rather than accept the demotion, Cody took the job in Marion. Eric Meyer says the Record was reporting on Cody’s past at the time of the raid.

Earlier:

Correction: Phyllis Zorn contacted me on Dec. 13 and informed me that Eric Meyer has not filed a lawsuit. I’ve updated my story accordingly.

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The New York Times pays tribute to Kansas newspaper woman Joan Meyer

Joan Meyer, the 98-year-old newspaperwoman who was literally scared to death after a thuggish police raid on her home in Marion, Kansas, is the subject of a lengthy obituary in today’s New York Times (free link). Mrs. Meyer, the co-publisher of the Marion County Record, collapsed and died Saturday, the day after police descended on the paper’s office; the home she shared with her son, publisher Eric Meyer; and the home of the vice mayor. Clay Risen writes:

As at most small-town papers, job titles at The Record are nominal; everyone does everything. Editors might write articles, reporters might sweep the floors. Mrs. Meyer worked as a copy editor and the social news editor, and for decades she wrote a column about local history called Memories.

“She was a walking encyclopedia of local history,” Rowena Plett, a features reporter for The Record, said in a phone interview.

Risen adds that Mrs. Meyer “refused to let anyone, even her husband or son, touch her copy.” Truly a woman after my own heart.

The raid was supposedly related to an investigation into how the Record obtained documents about the drunken-driving history of a local caterer. But I would definitely keep an eye on Eric Meyer’s revelation that the newspaper was investigating the possibility that Police Chief Gideon Cody left his previous job in Kansas City, Missouri, after he was accused of sexual misconduct.

Earlier:

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Kansas police chief claims secret information to justify newspaper raid

On Sunday, The New York Times and The Washington Post finally picked up on the police raid targeting the office of the Marion County Record as well as the publisher’s and vice mayor’s home. The action against the Kansas newspaper — illegal on its face under federal law since officials had not obtained a subpoena — has sparked a growing outcry, and may have led to the death of the paper’s 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Meyer.

The Post story, by Sofia Andrade and Paul Farhi, led with Meyer’s death. The Times story, by Stephen Lee Myers and Benjamin Mullin, weirdly saved that detail for the kicker. As I’ve written previously, Joan Meyer was at home Friday when police burst in and, according to her son, editor Eric Meyer, collapsed and died the following day after a sleepless, stress-filled night.

The Times quotes Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody as defending the raid, saying, “I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated.” The story adds that Cody declined to provide any additional information.

This is, of course, the classic defense by small-minded people with a little bit of power: If you knew what I know, then you’d know what I know. It’s ridiculous, and of course there’s nothing to stop Cody from sharing enough information to explain why he thought it necessary to seize computers, cellphones and financial records without even bothering to seek a subpoena, as required under the federal Privacy Protection Act.

The investigation was supposedly related to documents the Record had obtained about the drunken driving arrest of a local caterer, but that seems pretty unlikely. More to the point is that, according to Eric Meyer, the paper was looking into sexual misconduct allegations involving Chief Cody at his previous position in Kansas City, Missouri, from which he retired.

In other developments:

• The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has published an open letter to Chief Cody signed by 34 media and press freedom groups to “condemn” the raid, stating in part:

Based on public reporting, the search warrant that has been published online, and your public statements to the press, there appears to be no justification for the breadth and intrusiveness of the search — particularly when other investigative steps may have been available — and we are concerned that it may have violated federal law strictly limiting federal, state, and local law enforcements ability to conduct newsroom searches. We urged you to immediately return the seized material to the Record, to purge any records that may already have been accessed, and to initiate a full independent and transparent review of your department’s actions.

Among the signatories: The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe.

• Eric Meyer plans to file a federal lawsuit over the raid, according to Sara Fischer and Rebecca Falconer of Axios.

Earlier:

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Kansas newspaper publisher’s 98-year-old mother dies after police raid her home

Marion County Courthouse. Photo (cc) 2009 by Spacini.

Over the past 24 hours there have been some stunning new developments in the case of the Marion County Record, whose office was raided by police Friday. Also targeted were the homes of publisher Eric Meyer and a vice mayor.

• Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, who was home when police burst in home on Friday, collapsed and died Saturday afternoon, possibly as a result of stress stemming from the raid. Joan Meyer was the co-owner of the Record, which reports:

She had not been able to eat after police showed up at the door of her home Friday with a search warrant in hand. Neither was she able to sleep Friday night.

She 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.

• Initial reporting by the nonprofit Kansas Reflector suggested that the raid was somehow tied to a case involving documents provided by an anonymous source with regard to a local caterer who lacked a driver’s license and who had been convicted of drunken driving. But now it appears there may have been more — much more — behind the raid. Maria Kabas, who writes a newsletter called The Handbasket, interviewed Eric Meyer on Friday and writes:

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.

• The Marion County Police Department is defending its actions, according to Sherman Smith of the Kansas Reflector. Citing a post on the department’s Facebook page, Smith reports that the department acknowledges its actions were prohibited by the federal Privacy Protection Act — but that the department is claiming an exception to the law because the newspaper itself was suspected of committing a crime. Under the law, police need a subpoena, not just a search warrant, to confiscate materials from journalists. Smith’s story includes this:

“It appears like the police department is trying to criminalize protected speech in an attempt to sidestep federal law,” said Jared McClain, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm.

“The First Amendment ensures that publications like the Marion County Record can investigate public officials without fear of reprisal,” McClain said. “It chills the important function of journalism when police raid a newsroom, storm the homes of reporters, seize their property and gain access to their confidential sources. That’s precisely why we must hold accountable officers who retaliate against people who exercise their First Amendment rights.”

This shocking abridgment of the First Amendment has not yet quite broken through to the mainstream. Although CNN and USA Today have both reported on it, The New York Times and The Washington Post have not. I’d be surprised if they’re not working on stories right now. Heather Cox Richardson, in her Letters from an American newsletter, has a solid overview and relates it to the destruction of antislavery editor Elijah Lovejoy’s presses — and his ultimate assassination — in 1837.

What is unfolding in Kansas is one of the most nauseating attacks on freedom of the press that I’ve seen in my lifetime. Every officer involved, as well as the police chief and any officials who ordered the raid, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Charges in the death of Joan Meyer should be considered as well. And since the police appear to have violated federal law, Attorney General Merrick Garland needs to pay a visit as soon as he can manage to buy a plane ticket.

Earlier:

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