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Settlement reached in lawsuit over an illegal police raid against a Kansas newspaper

The fallout continues from an illegal police raid on a Kansas newspaper and two private homes last August. According to The New York Times, Deb Gruver, a former reporter for the weekly Marion County Record, has reached a $235,000 settlement as part of her federal lawsuit accusing then-Police Chief Gideon Cody of grabbing her cellphone and injuring her hand.

The Associated Press reports that Gruver’s lawsuit against two other officials continues. Nor is that the only legal action under way. Publisher Eric Meyer is suing local officials over the death of his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, who was stricken a day after officers entered her home and rifled through her property.

Previous coverage.

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The main event: A Kansas publisher and his newspaper file suit over illegal raid

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.

Previous coverage.

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A third plaintiff sues over an illegal raid at a Kansas newspaper last summer

A third employee of a weekly newspaper in Kansas has joined a federal suit against a local police department over an illegal raid conducted at the newspaper’s office and the publisher’s and the vice mayor’s homes, according to The Associated Press. Cheri Bentz, who was the office manager at the Marion County Record, claims she was illegally detained and questioned, and that her cellphone was taken from her as well.

The case set off a First Amendment fury last summer after a home security camera captured the paper’s 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Meyer, berating the officers who had invaded the home she shared with her son, publisher Eric Meyer. Joan Meyer collapsed and died the next day following a sleepless, stress-filled night.

The raid led to the resignation of Police Chief Gideon Cody, who initially defended the action. Despite the official line that the raid was linked to a convoluted situation involving private driving records, it turned out that the Record was investigating possible wrongdoing by Cody at his previous job.

Earlier coverage.

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The Andrea Estes saga leads the list of most-read Media Nation posts in 2023

Photo (cc) 2020 by Busdriver666

It’s time once again to take a look at the state of Media Nation and share the most-read posts of the past year. It’s a little complicated this year — in late July, I moved the blog from to, and the numbers for January through July look different when compared to August through December. It seems to be an apples-and-oranges problem, but I can’t put my finger on it. Given that, I’m going to list the top five for the first seven months and the top five for the last five months. Presumably it will be easier to figure it out next year.

January-July 2023

1. Andrea Estes has left the Globe following an error-riddled story about the MBTA (May 4). One of The Boston Globe’s top investigative reporters was fired after the paper erroneously reported that three top managers at the MBTA were living in distant locations when in fact they were in the Boston area. Six others really were working remotely. The Globe has still not disclosed what went wrong, and, by fall, Estes was working at the Plymouth Independent, a well-funded nonprofit with some prominent Globe alumni.

2. Liz Cheney for speaker (Jan. 3). With the dysfunctional House Republicans unable to agree on a speaker, I suggested that a bipartisan coalition turn to Cheney, a hard-right conservative who had nevertheless endeared herself to some Democrats with her service on the House committee that investigated the role played by Donald Trump and others in the failed insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.

3. An ombudsman could have explained what went wrong with the Globe’s MBTA story (April 28). Following a lengthy correction to Andrea Estes’ story about the MBTA, I urged that the Globe, as well as other news organizations, bring back the ombudsman’s position, something that nearly all news organizations had abandoned over the past 10 years. Sometimes called the public editor, the ombudsman’s role is to act as a reader advocate and look into problems with coverage, standards, tone and other matters.

4. Globe editor Nancy Barnes tells her staff she’s working to unravel the MBTA fiasco (May 4). We’re still waiting — although, to be fair, Estes’ decision to file a union grievance may make it difficult to go public with any information about what went wrong, and who was to blame, in that botched MBTA story.

5. Why the Internet Archive’s copyright battle is likely to come to a very bad end (March 21). We all love the Internet Archive. In my view, though, it’s heading down a very bad road, claiming the right to copy and lend books without first reaching a licensing agreement with the publishers, as every other library does. Early indications were that the courts would not look kindly upon the Archive’s arguments, and I doubt that’s going to change. There are many negative observations I could make about copyright law, but it is the law.

August-December 2023

1. The late Matthew Stuart’s lawyer blasts the Globe (Dec. 6). After The Boston Globe published its massive overview of the 1989 Carol Stuart case, Nancy Gertner, who had been the late Matthew Stuart’s lawyer, took to GBH Radio (89.7 FM) and blasted the Globe for suggesting that Matthew may have been directly involved in fatal shooting Carol Stuart, the wounding of her husband, Charles Stuart, or both. (A brief synopsis: Charles Stuart, who had planned the murder, blamed the shootings on “a Black man,” turning the city upside-down for weeks, and then finally jumped to his death off the Tobin Bridge as police were moving in.) Several days after Gertner’s remarks, Globe columnist Adrian Walker, who worked closely on the project and narrated the accompanying podcast, appeared on GBH to defend the Globe’s reporting and assert that the paper did not draw any conclusions about Matthew Stuart’s role.

2. The Globe announces expanded regional coverage of Greater Boston (Sept. 6). The Boston Globe is among a tiny handful of regional newspapers that are growing and hiring — and the paper took another step in September by announcing more coverage in Cambridge, Somerville and the suburbs. The Globe already has bureaus in Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Good news all around, although it’s no substitute for detailed coverage of local government, schools, development and the like. Some communities are now being well-covered by startup news outlets, most of them nonprofit; others, though, have little or nothing.

3. A devastating portrayal of Elon Musk raises serious questions about capitalism run amok (Aug. 23). The world’s richest person was unavoidable in 2023, mainly for his destruction of Twitter, the plaything he bought the previous fall. Ronan Farrow, writing in The New Yorker, took a deep dive into Musk’s life and career, describing him as an out-of-control egomaniac with scant regard for safety at SpaceX and Tesla, his grandiosity fed by what may be his overindulgence in ketamine. Walter Isaacson’s biography of Musk got more attention, but Farrow delivered the goods.

4. More evidence that Woodrow Wilson was among our very worst presidents (Oct. 9, 2022). Why this post from 2022 popped up is a mystery to me, but it’s nevertheless heartening to see that Wilson’s reputation continues to disintegrate. I shared a New York Times review of a Wilson biography by Adam Hochschild. The reviewer, Thomas Meaney, wrote that the book deals mainly with Wilson’s “terror campaign against American radicals, dissidents, immigrants and workers makes the McCarthyism of the 1950s look almost subtle by comparison.” And lets not forget that Wilson was also a vicious racist.

5. Nobel winner weighs in on a shocking police raid against a newspaper: ‘It’s happening to you now’ (Aug. 12). One of several posts I wrote about a police raid of the offices of the Marion County Record in rural Kansas as well as the homes of the publisher and a city official. Publisher Eric Meyer’s mother, Joan Meyer, still involved in the paper at the age of 97, died the next day, apparently because of stress. “It’s happening to you now,” said Maria Ressa, the Filipino journalist who won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous resistance to her own country’s authoritarian regime. The ostensible reason for the police department’s thug-like action involved supposedly confidential driver’s records belong to a local restaurateur; more likely, it involved the paper’s investigation of Police Chief Gideon Cody’s alleged misconduct at his previous job. Two months after the raid, Cody resigned.

This might be my final post of 2023. Thank you, as always, for reading. And I wish all of you health and happiness in the year ahead.

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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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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.


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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