Reporter for raided Kansas newspaper files federal lawsuit against Marion police chief

A reporter whose cellphone was seized and finger injured by police during a raid on the Marion County Record has filed a federal lawsuit against the city’s police chief, Gideon Cody.

“Chief Cody acted in unreasonable and unnecessarily violent fashion,” said the lawsuit filed Wednesday by reporter Deb Gruver.

During the Aug. 11 raid, Cody handed Gruver a copy of a search warrant, and she reached for her phone to call Eric Meyer, the paper’s publisher.

“Chief Cody responded by reaching over the papers and snatching the phone out of her hand,” the lawsuit alleged.

“There was no factual basis to believe Ms. Gruver’s personal cellular phone was evidence of the alleged crime, or any crime,” the lawsuit continued.

During the encounter, Gruver said her finger was injured.

Cody did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The raid, carried out by Marion police officers and members of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, provoked worldwide concern about press freedom.

In the application for a search warrant, Cody wrote that he was investigating identity theft and unlawful acts concerning computers. The case pertained to driving records about local restaurant owner Kari Newell.

In the affidavits, Cody mentions reporter Phyllis Zorn and Meyer, but Gruver’s name is not included.

In addition to her phone, authorities removed Gruver’s computer tower and devices used by Zorn and Meyer.

The lawsuit alleges Cody violated protections covered by the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as protections included under the Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable search and seizures.

It also says Cody was aware that Gruver, a former reporter for the Wichita Eagle, was investigating his background. Cody applied to be chief in April and the Record began looking into allegations that he had left the Kansas City Police Department after engaging in misconduct. The Star found Cody was under internal review and possibly facing a demotion for allegedly making insulting and sexist comments to a female officer. He was appointed as Marion’s chief in May.

Warrants were also executed at Meyer’s home and the residence of City Councilwoman Ruth Herbel.

The newspaper said Zorn had accessed information from the Kansas Department of Revenue website that was open to the public.

Five days after the raid, Marion County Prosecutor Joel Ensey said “that insufficient evidence exists to establish” a strong connection “between the alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.”

The items were returned, and a forensic examiner was tasked with reviewing what, if anything, had been accessed while in police custody.

Last week, Bernie Rhodes, an attorney for the Record (and, at times, The Star), said that the sheriff’s office had copied 17 gigabytes of data and failed to destroy it. Later, he said the sheriff’s office had agreed to give him a copy of what had been cloned and then destroy the device.

Rhodes has said the paper is exploring its options for a lawsuit, which could include a wrongful death claim. A day after the raid, Record co-owner Joan Meyer, the mother of Eric Meyer, died from sudden cardiac arrest. A surveillance video from the search at their home shows the 98-year-old angered as officers rifle through belongings.