KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Former Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody spoke with the restaurant owner who accused the local newspaper of criminal activity for checking her driver’s license status shortly after he raided its newsroom in August, commiserating about the situation and saying the search yielded “good evidence.”
Bodycam footage from Cody shows a phone call between the then-chief and Kari Newell, owner of two Marion establishments, the day officers searched the Marion County Record, the home of its publisher Eric Meyer and the home of city councilwoman Ruth Herbel. Newell had accused the newspaper of identity theft after it accessed a public state database to verify that she had a suspended license.
The video shows Cody effectively providing Newell with a play-by-play of the day’s events – offering a purported victim and witness an extraordinary window into an ongoing police investigation.
At what appears to be the start of the call, Cody says, “Hey honey, we can’t write anything.” Newell responds that she understands.
Cody tells Newell that he “just hit Ruth’s and Eric’s – so now I’m heading to Eric’s house.”
“I have a feeling the attention will no longer be on you, it will be on me. But that’s part of my job, is to take some of that attention off of people,” Cody says during the call. “Like I say, you’re a victim, you live in this society just like everybody else, you have a right to justice as well.”
“They don’t see it that way. They’re screaming $3 million lawsuits. I’m already getting phone calls. I’ve got this headache coming out of this world right now.”
Cody refers to be attempting to download information but tells Newell it didn’t work – an apparent reference to electronic devices taken from the Record – and says he decided to take devices.
The bodycam footage underscores just how much about the events that led up to the raid – including why Cody appeared in close touch with Newell during the searches – remains unknown. Fallout from the raid is also continuing – early last week Marion city administrator Brogan Jones resigned and voters ousted Herbel during this month’s local elections.
Bernie Rhodes, an attorney for The Record, called it “beyond astonishing” that Cody would “admit on camera to hiding evidence” when he told Newell to not put anything in writing. It was also surprising, he said, that Cody briefed Newell on the searches as they unfolded.
“For Cody to suggest that he’s merely doing his job is clearly a lie,” said Rhodes, who also represents The Star. “When the police execute a search warrant, they don’t normally in the middle of it call up the so-called victim and start telling them what they found.”
Meyer, the newspaper’s publisher, said he’s still confounded by Cody’s actions, including his call to Newell while driving between searches.
“It is particularly odd that he would talk to her so repeatedly given that Gideon Cody never spoke to me about this,” Meyer said.
He laughed at Cody’s suggestion the searches derived “good evidence.” He noted that officers took unrelated documents, like a former job applicant’s story about haunted houses, but left documentation that the newspaper pulled on Newell’s driving record on his desk.
“The thing that they considered was illegal, which wasn’t illegal, they never took it,” he said.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which took over Cody’s investigation shortly after the searches, has said its inquiry remains ongoing and has not answered questions about whether they are investigating allegations against newspaper employees or Cody himself.
The Record reported last month that bodycam footage showed Newell in contact with Cody on the day of the searches. Newell also told KSHB in September that she deleted text messages between her and Cody at his behest.
Reached by the Star on Thursday, Newell declined to comment. Cody didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Marion, a town of fewer than 2,000 people, was thrust into the national spotlight in August after the searches led by Cody. He claimed he was looking into allegations that newspaper employees illegally accessed Newell’s driving records, and in the days following the searches was preparing affidavits for criminal charges against newspaper employees and Herbel. The Kansas Department of Revenue, which maintains a database of the records, has said the search accessed public information.
But the warrants were withdrawn by Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey, who said there was not enough evidence.
Prior to the August searches, the Marion County Record had been looking into Cody’s background. The Star reported after the search that when Cody left for Marion earlier this year he was facing demotion in the Kansas City Police Department because of inappropriate remarks made to a lower ranking officer.
Cody resigned last month, weeks after Deb Gruver, a former Marion County Record reporter, filed a federal lawsuit against him. In his response to Gruver’s lawsuit, Cody called the KBI’s continued involvement in the investigation a “conflict of interest.”
The KBI, Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Kansas Department of Revenue were all in touch with Cody prior to the searches, public records show. The sheriff’s office appeared to assist Cody in drafting the search warrant applications that were used to justify the raids.
City administrator resigns
During last Monday’s city council meeting, Herbel accused Jones, the city administrator, of lying about forwarding an email about Newell she sent him a week before the raids. Herbel said she had lost faith in Jones, saying she believed his decision to forward that email, which was cited in the affidavit for the search on Herbel’s home, kicked off the series of events that led to the raids.
“Now, I’d like to hear your answer: ‘Why did you forward this email to the council?’” Herbel asked.
Outgoing Mayor David Mayfield jumped in, saying he told Jones to forward the email. Herbel then asked Jones why he apparently told her he did not share the email; Jones said he did not say that, but that he told “nobody but council.”
“You are a liar,” Herbel said, pointing her index finger at Jones, who responded that he had the “direct quote” on his phone.
Jones on Tuesday morning gave 60-days notice of his resignation in a letter sent to council members. He wrote that he will ensure a smooth transition of his responsibilities before his last day Jan. 12.
“Thank you again for the support, but the time has come that I need to do what is best for myself and my family,” Jones wrote.
The Star’s Katie Bernard and the Wichita Eagle’s Jaime Green contributed reporting.