Kansas police chief who led raid on small weekly newspaper has resigned, official says

TOPEKA, Kan. – The police chief who led an August raid on a small weekly newspaper in central Kansas resigned Monday, just days after he was suspended from his post and following the release of body camera video of the raid showing an officer searching the desk of a reporter investigating the chief’s past.

Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody’s resignation was confirmed to The Associated Press both by Mayor Dave Mayfield and City Council member Ruth Herbel, following an announcement by Mayfield at Monday’s council meeting. Mayfield had suspended Cody on Thursday for reasons that have not been made public. In a text message Monday night to the AP, he said he couldn’t answer questions about the chief’s resignation “as it is a personnel matter.”

Cody stepped down weeks after a local prosecutor said that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to justify the search of the Marion County Record or searches at the same time of the publisher’s home and Herbel’s home.

The search of the newspaper put Marion, a town of 1,900 residents some 150 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City, at the center of a fierce national debate over press freedoms and cast an international spotlight on Cody and his tactics. Cody faces one federal lawsuit, and others are expected.

Cody did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment about his resignation. His resignation initially was reported by the Marion County Record and the Wichita Eagle.

“It’s long overdue. You know, we had to wait more than six weeks to get him suspended,” said Eric Meyer, the Record’s editor and publisher. “It kind of leads you to believe that there’s some smoking gun somewhere that everybody knows about and we’re going to try to get ahead of it.”

Recently obtained body camera video from the search of the newspaper shows that after an officer rifled through a desk drawer of the reporter looking into Cody’s background, he beckoned Cody over to look at the documents he’d found. The AP obtained the body camera video Monday through an open records request.

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Cody then says, “Keep a personal file on me. I don’t care,” the video shows. He’s briefly seen bending over, apparently to look at the drawer, before the other officer’s clipboard blocks the view of what the chief is doing.

Cody obtained warrants for the three raids by telling a judge that he had evidence of possible identity theft and other potential crimes tied to the circulation of information about a local restaurant owner’s driving record. But the newspaper and its attorney have suggested he might have been trying to find out what it had learned about his past as a police captain in Kansas City, Missouri.

“This was all about finding out who our sources were,” Bernie Rhodes, the newspaper’s attorney, said Monday.

Some legal experts believe the raids on the Record’s office and Meyer’s home violated a federal privacy law that protects journalists from having their newsrooms searched. Some believe it violated a Kansas law that makes it more difficult to force reporters and editors to disclose their sources and unpublished material.

Herbel has called the search of her home illegal because of differences in the texts of the affidavit Cody used to get the warrant and the warrant itself. She said last month that she feared for her safety.

“I’m glad we’re rid of him,” Herbel said.

Meyer blames the stress of the raids for the death the next day of his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, the paper’s co-owner.

While the newspaper has questioned Cody’s motives, the body camera video shows him repeatedly telling newspaper staffers that he is investigating how it and Herbel obtained information about the owner of two local restaurants, Kari Newell.

“It grew into a monster, and it’s got your name on it,” Cody told Record reporter Phyllis Zorn, who had verified information about Newell online, after reading Zorn her rights, one video shows.

The video was released to the AP through a Wichita law firm representing the city. The same firm has been representing Cody in the federal lawsuit against him, filed by Deb Gruver, the Record reporter who’d been looking into Cody’s past, who recently left the newspaper.

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The video of Cody at Gruver’s desk is from the body camera of Marion Police Officer Zach Hudlin. There appeared to be no corresponding video of the same moment from Cody’s own camera.

The video shows that officers, led by Cody, searched the Record newsroom after interviewing Zorn, Gruver and the newspaper’s business manager, and escorting them out of the building. Hudlin then goes through a drawer in Gruver’s desk — after Gruver told the chief she had nothing to do with the reporting on Newell.

Hudlin asks Cody, “You want to look through this desk?”

Cody responds that Hudlin has the right to look through it, and Hudlin replies, “I know. I’m asking, do YOU want to look through this desk?”

After Cody goes to the desk, Hudlin tells him, “You will understand shortly.”

It’s not clear from the video how closely Cody examined what was in the desk, and the object Hudlin found — described by Rhodes as a file on Cody’s time in with the Kansas City, Missouri, police department.

Cody retired from the Kansas City police in late April, around the time the Marion City Council interviewed him. He took a big cut in pay: The Kansas City police paid him nearly $116,000 a year, while the Marion job pays $60,000 annually.

Meyer has said Cody knew weeks before the raids that the newspaper was looking into anonymous tips about why Cody retired from the Kansas City police. Meyer said when he asked Cody a question about it, Cody threatened a lawsuit.

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Vancleave reported from Minneapolis and Ballentine, from Columbia, Missouri. Also contributing were Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis; Josh Funk in Omaha, Nebraska, and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles.