The Marion County Record in Marion, Kan., on Aug. 13, 2023.

Kansas police chief who approved raid on journalists resigns

The police chief of a small Kansas town who directed searches of a publisher and his newsroom over its retrieval of public information has resigned, an official confirmed to The Associated Press.

Marion Mayor David Mayfield suspended Police Chief Gideon Cody on Thursday, and Cody resigned Monday, Mayfield announced at a City Council meeting, according to City Council member Ruth Herbel.

Mayfield and Herbel did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation.

Cody used his five-member force and help from Marion County sheriff’s deputies to launch warrant-based searches of the Marion County Record newsroom, as well as the homes of its publisher and of Herbel.

A day after the Aug. 11 raid, Record co-owner Joan Meyer, 98, died of stress caused by what happened, her son, publisher Eric Meyer, said later.

Publisher Eric Meyer.Marion County Record publisher Eric Meyer speaks to the media on Aug. 16.KSNW

Cody stood by his statement that the warrant, signed by a local judge, was truthful, based on his belief that the publication engaged in identity theft when it accessed the driver records of local restaurateur Kari Newell.

Cody wrote in an affidavit in support of the warrant request that “downloading the document involved either impersonating the victim or lying about the reasons why the record was being sought.”

The search warrant, which included the locations of the publication, as well as the homes of the publisher and the vice mayor, was signed by Marion County Magistrate Judge Laura Viar.

Joan Meyer, co-owner of the Marion County Record, swears at police officers in her home on Aug. 11, 2023.Joan Meyer, a co-owner of the Marion County Record, swears at police officers in her home on Aug. 11.Marion County Record

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The driver record database, however, is open to the public, and it will return information about any Kansas-licensed driver with a first and a last name, a date of birth and a driver’s license number.

Reporter Phyllis Zorn obtained the records after the newspaper received a tip that Newell was convicted of a DUI in 2008, which may be a barrier to her obtaining a liquor license for her restaurant.

Newell raised the matter of reporters’ digging into her background at a City Council meeting in the summer. Then the raids happened.

Herbel called the search of her home “illegal.” Press freedom organizations weighed in with formal statements of condemnation against Cody and other law enforcement personnel involved in the searches.

A stack of the Marion County Record edition on Aug. 16, 2023, following the police raid on the paper's office in Marion, Kan.A stack of the Marion County Record edition on Aug. 16 after the police raid on the paper’s office in Marion, Kan.John Hanna / AP file

“There appears to be no justification for the breadth and intrusiveness of the search … and we are concerned that it may have violated federal law,” the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said in a letter to Cody dated Aug. 13.Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey eventually asked police to return property seized in the searches, saying they did not have enough evidence to justify the raids.

Last month, the Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct was weighing the viability of a citizen’s complaint against Viar over her approval of the search warrant.

Cody initially responded to backlash against the raids by acknowledging the constitutionally protected role of journalism in the U.S. and the higher threshold for searches in cases involving news publications.

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But he also said by email that the search warrants were sound and justified because the targeted journalists were believed to have been participating in “the underlying wrongdoing.”

Cody did not respond directly when he was asked Aug. 12 what his reaction would be if he lost his job over the matter.

He said in a statement, “I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated.”

Dennis Romero

Dennis Romero is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.