Local law enforcement raided the Marion County Record’s office and seized computers, cellphones, and reporting materials.
“Eric Meyer, owner and publisher of the newspaper, said police were motivated by a confidential source who leaked sensitive documents to the newspaper,” the Kansas Reflector reports.
“The raid followed news stories about a restaurant owner who kicked reporters out of a meeting last week with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, and revelations about the restaurant owner’s lack of a driver’s license and conviction for drunken driving,” the Kansas Reflector writes.
“It’s going to have a chilling effect on us even tackling issues,” Meyer said.
According to Marion County Record, the illegal raid, resembling “Gestapo tactics,” contributed to the death of the newspaper’s co-owner.
“Stressed beyond her limits and overwhelmed by hours of shock and grief after illegal police raids on her home and the Marion County Record newspaper office Friday, 98-year-old newspaper co-owner Joan Meyer, otherwise in good health for her age, collapsed Saturday afternoon and died at her home,” Marion County Record wrote.
“She had not been able to eat after police showed up at the door of her home Friday with a search warrant in hand. Neither was she able to sleep Friday night,” the newspaper continued.
“She tearfully watched during the raid as police not only carted away her computer and a router used by an Alexa smart speaker but also dug through her son Eric’s personal bank and investments statements to photograph them.”
During the raid, “Cody handed Gruver a copy of a search warrant, and she reached for her phone to call Eric Meyer, the paper’s publisher,” The Kansas City Star writes.
“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.
According to the Kansas Reflector, Gruver is “seeking damages for ’emotional distress, mental anguish and physical injury’ as a result of Cody’s ‘malicious and recklessly indifferent violation’ of her First Amendment free press rights and Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure.”
“Although I brought this suit in my own name, I’m standing up for journalists across the country. It is our constitutional right to do this job without fear of harassment or retribution, and our constitutional rights are always worth fighting for,” Gruver explained.
In Gruver’s lawsuit, she asserts the raid was to punish reporters from investigating news stories.
Cody spearheaded the Aug. 11 raid under the pretense that reporter Phyllis Zorn committed identity theft when she accessed public records on a public website. His real motivation, Gruver’s lawsuit contends, was to punish the journalists for investigating and reporting news stories.
Gruver had questioned Cody in April, when he was hired as police chief, about allegations made by his former colleagues with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. They accused Cody of making sexist comments, being a poor leader and driving over a dead body at a crime scene. The newspaper initially declined to write about the allegations without an on-the-record source or documentation that Cody was in danger of being demoted when he left Kansas City.
In Marion, a town of about 1,900, Cody became an ally of Kari Newell, who owns a restaurant and cafe.
A dizzying drama unfolded in the days preceding the Aug. 11 raid as Newell had Cody evict Meyer and Zorn from a public meeting at her cafe, and a confidential source provided Zorn with information that could jeopardize Newell’s efforts to obtain a liquor license at her restaurant.
The source said Newell had lost her driver’s license following a 2008 drunken driving conviction. When Zorn asked the Kansas Department of Revenue how to verify the information, the agency directed her to search the public records in its online database. Meyer told Cody about the information in part because the source also alleged that police knew Newell was driving without a license and had ignored repeated violations by Newell of driving laws.