Eric Meyer speaks with reporters in August 2023. Photo (cc) 2023 by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector.

Obviously I should have waited before hitting “publish” on Monday’s item about the latest lawsuit to be filed regarding the illegal police raid last summer against the Marion County Record in rural Kansas. Because that turned out to be just a preliminary to the main event.

Publisher and editor Eric Meyer has been conspicuous by his absence in the the various legal maneuverings that have been playing out in the intervening months. Well, that changed big-time on Monday, when Meyer and the paper itself filed a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court. Interestingly, the principal defendant is not the former police chief, Gideon Cody, although he’s certainly among them. Rather, it’s the former mayor, David Mayfield.

The Record’s own story is trapped behind a paywall, but the nonprofit Kansas Reflector has published an in-depth report that includes the new developments as well as the relevant background. The most interesting twist is the inclusion of Mayfield, who, according to the paper’s lawsuit, ordered Cody to conduct an illegal raid against the newspaper over the paper’s handling of driving records, which were publicly available online but could only be used for certain restricted purposes. Cody met with Marion County Sheriff Jeff Soyez, the lawsuit charges, and Soyez agreed to take part in “their illicit plan to take down the Marion County Record.”

That raid, conducted against the newspaper’s offices, Meyer’s home and the home of city council member Ruth Herbel, has now resulted in a total of four lawsuits, with more promised. Among other things, Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, who was home at the time that police burst in looking for documents, died the next day after a sleepless, stress-filled night.

The purported reason for the raid has always seemed like a pretext. We learned later on, for instance, that the Record was looking into misconduct by Cody at his previous job. And now we know that the Record had been harshly critical of Mayfield, too. The story in the Reflector, by Sherman Smith, includes this choice tidbit:

The federal lawsuit says Eric Meyer seeks justice “to deter the next crazed cop from threatening democracy the way Chief Cody did when he hauled away the newspaper’s computers and its reporters’ cell phones in an ill-fated attempt to silence the press.”

Mayfield, a former Kansas Highway Patrol trooper and Marion police chief who works part-time for the sheriff, wanted to punish Eric Meyer and Councilwoman Ruth Herbel for their criticism of his actions as mayor, according to the lawsuit. In editorials, Eric Meyer referred to Mayfield as a dictator, bully and liar. Mayfield had tried and failed to remove Herbel from the city council through a recall petition in January 2023.

There’s this as well: “On July 25, just 17 days before the raid, David Mayfield wrote on his personal Facebook page: ‘The real villains in America aren’t Black people. They aren’t white people. They aren’t Asians. They aren’t Latinos. They aren’t women. They aren’t gays. They are the radical ‘journalists,’ ‘teachers’ & ‘professors’ who do nothing but sow division between the American people.’”

The raid was almost certainly a violation of the federal Privacy Protection Act of 1980, which requires authorities to obtain a subpoena — not just a search warrant — when seizing documents from news organizations.

The defendants named in Meyer’s suit are the City of Marion; former Marion Mayor Mayfield; former Police Chief Cody; Acting Police Chief Zach Hudlin; the Board of County Commissioners for the County of Marion; Marion County Sheriff Soyez; and Marion County Detective Aaron Christner.

Meyer is reportedly seeking more than $5 million for the wrongful death of his mother — compensation that will be sought in a subsequent claim. As for what would happen to local finances if he wins, Meyer said:

The last thing we want is to bankrupt the city or county, but we have a duty to democracy and to countless news organizations and citizens nationwide to challenge such malicious and wanton violations of the First and Fourth Amendments and federal laws limiting newsroom searches. If we prevail, we anticipate donating any punitive damages to community projects and causes supporting cherished traditions of freedom.

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