The mayor of a small town in Kansas has reportedly suspended the police chief over a month after he led a raid on a local newspaper’s office as well as homes of its owners.
One owner whose home was raided, a 98-year-old woman, died less than 24 hours later, due to the stress of the raid.
On August 11, Chief Gideon Cody led several raids on parties involved with the Marion County Record, a family-owned weekly newspaper serving the community about 60 miles north of Wichita, in a move that garnered national attention from news organizations and freedom of press advocates.
Now, however, Cody has reportedly been suspended by Marion Mayor Dave Mayfield, who allegedly told The Associated Press about his decision.
“I did indeed suspend chief Cody and I won’t discuss any details regarding his suspension as it is a personnel matter,” Mayfield said in an email to CNN.
The reports come after Mayfield previously said he would take action after reviewing the findings of a state police investigation.
Vice-Mayor Ruth Herbel agreed with Mayfield’s decision, saying that suspending Cody is “the best thing that can happen to Marion right now,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We can’t duck our heads until it goes away, because it’s not going to go away until we do something about it,” Herbel said, whose home was also searched in the raid.
Marion County Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar signed a search warrant for the Marion County Record in August after it was alleged that the paper had multiple violations of identity theft and “unlawful acts concerning computers.”
Authorities searched the home of Eric Meyer, the co-owner and publisher of the over 150-year-old paper, and the Marion County Record’s newsroom after reporters had begun researching allegations that the police department had turned a blind eye to a local store owner who had been driving with a suspended license after a DUI.
Four Marion police officers and three sheriff’s deputies reportedly seized personal cell phones, computers and other materials at Meyer’s home and the newspaper’s office, including unrelated equipment that was needed for publishing.
The department said that it believed a reporter may have committed identity theft in pulling records on the local owner of a candy store, but both the paper and reporter said they only accessed publicly available records.
Authorities later searched the home of Joan Meyer, the 98-year-old mother of Eric and the co-owner of the Marion County Record. Police raided her home on August 11, and a video clip shows her shouting at officers while wearing her robe and slippers and using her walker.
Less than 24 hours later, she collapsed and sadly passed away, with the Record reporting that her death was due to the hours of “shock and grief,” following the raid.
Her son Eric stated his belief that the stress and anger experienced due to the police raid was a major contributing factor in her death.
The day following the raid, on August 12, the police department posted a message to their Facebook page, but it was quickly scrubbed. It reads, in part, “As much as I would like to give everyone details on a criminal investigation I cannot. I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated.”
Legal experts believe that the search from law enforcement was in violation of a federal privacy law which protects journalists from having their newsrooms searched, as well as a state law protecting journalists from disclosing sources or turning over unpublished materials to authorities.
The Facebook post from the police department discussed those allegations, saying, “the federal Privacy Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000aa-2000aa-12, does protect journalists from most searches of newsrooms by federal and state law enforcement officials. It is true that in most cases, it requires police to use subpoenas, rather than search warrants, to search the premises of journalists unless they themselves are suspects in the offense that is the subject of the search.
“The Act requires criminal investigators to get a subpoena instead of a search warrant when seeking ‘work product materials’ and ‘documentary materials’ from the press, except in circumstances, including: (1) when there is reason to believe the journalist is taking part in the underlying wrongdoing,” it continued.
Cody also reportedly defended the raid in a Facebook post, reiterating the police department’s comments about the exception to the rule.
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