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Second federal lawsuit over raid of Kansas newspaper filed against police, officials

Local law enforcement seized computers, cellphones and reporting materials from the Marion County Record office, the newspaper's reporters, and the publisher's home, on Aug.11, 2023.    (Mark Reinstein/ZUMA Press Wire/TNS)
By Katie Moore The Kansas City Star

A reporter alleges in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that her constitutional rights were violated when police raided the newsroom in Marion, Kansas, last August.

Phyllis Zorn filed the suit against the City of Marion, former Mayor David Mayfield, former Police Chief Gideon Cody, Interim Police Chief Zach Hudlin, the Marion County Commission, Marion County Sheriff Jeff Soyez and Aaron Christner, a detective with the sheriff’s office.

The lawsuit alleges “the defendants are co-conspirators in an unconstitutional effort to deny Ms. Zorn her rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” It asks Zorn to be awarded $950,000.

Officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Aug. 11, police executed search warrants at The Record, the home of Joan Meyer and her son Eric Meyer, who own the newspaper, and City Councilwoman Ruth Herbel under the pretense that Zorn had illegally obtained information about the DUI conviction of a local restaurateur. That information was later confirmed by the Kansas Department of Revenue to be open to the public.

Prior to the raid, the newspaper had been investigating Police Chief Gideon Cody’s background and his time with the Kansas City Police Department, which he left while under internal review for allegedly making sexist comments. The paper did not publish a story about the allegations because reporters could not confirm them, Eric Meyer previously told The Star.

The raid thrust the small town into the national spotlight and it quickly drew national concerns about press freedom. Joan Meyer, 98, died the next day from sudden cardiac arrest, according to a coroner’s report.

Five days after the raid, the search warrants were withdrawn after Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey concluded there was “insufficient evidence” to support the search and seizure. Items including computers, phones, documents and external drives were returned.

In late August, former reporter Deb Gruver filed a federal lawsuit against Cody, who resigned in October. Hudlin, who participated in the raid, was named interim police chief.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation. Documents showed that the KBI had knowledge of Cody’s investigation of The Record prior to the search warrants. The investigation was later handed over to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

The CBI said Monday that the investigation remains ongoing.