In August, Breaking Digest reported a distressing incident in which the entire police force of a Kansas city conducted a raid on a newspaper’s office, resulting in the unfortunate passing of Joan Meyer, a 98-year-old co-owner of the Marion County Record.
While the raid was taking place, Joan, who was awaiting a Meals on Wheels delivery, reportedly watched the search with tears in her eyes. The newspaper reported that this distressing event had a significant impact on her well-being, rendering her unable to eat or sleep, which ultimately contributed to her passing.
In addition to the tragic death of Joan Meyer, one of the newspaper’s reporters, Deb Gruver, suffered an injury when a Police Chief Gideon Cody forcibly took her cell phone from her hand.
This Wednesday, Gruver filed a federal lawsuit against the Chief Chody, alleging the violation of her constitutional rights.
The complaint states, “Chief Cody first handed Ms. Gruver the Warrant when he arrived, and as she began to read it, she began to access her personal cellular phone – telling Chief Cody that she needed to call [publisher] Eric Meyer. Chief Cody responded by reaching over the papers and snatching the phone out of her hand.”
The complain further states, “In seizing Ms. Gruver’s personal cellular phone despite the seizure exceeding the scope of the unreasonable and unlawful search warrant, Chief Cody acted in unreasonable and unnecessarily violent fashion, causing injury to plaintiff’s Gruver’s rights and her person.”
Deb Gruver believes Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody violated her constitutional rights when he abruptly snatched her personal cellphone out of her hands during a search where officers also seized computers from the Marion County Record’s office, according to the lawsuit. That Aug. 11 search and two others conducted at the homes of the newspaper’s publisher and a City Council member have thrust the town into the center of a debate over the press protections in the First Amendment.
Gruver — a veteran reporter with more than three decades of experience — said in a statement that by filing her lawsuit “I’m standing up for journalists across the country.” She has previously worked at other newspapers in Kansas, Wyoming and Indiana and has won awards for her reporting.
“It is our constitutional right to do this job without fear of harassment or retribution, and our constitutional rights are always worth fighting for,” said Gruver, who had the words “Freedom of the press” tattooed on her right forearm the same day her lawsuit was filed.
But the plot thickens…
Cody led the August 11 raid, which occurred supposedly over a heated dispute between the Marion County Record and a local restaurant owner, Kari Newell. The newspaper had reportedly obtained confidential documents that could have resulted in the revocation of Newell’s liquor license. These documents contained evidence of drunk driving convictions and operating a vehicle without a license.
The raid was conducted under the pretense that reporter Phyllis Zorn committed identity theft when she accessed the public records on a public website.
However, according to Gruver’s lawsuit, Cody’s true intent was to retaliate against the journalists for their investigative reporting.
Back in April, Gruver had questioned Cody about allegations made by his former colleagues in the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. These allegations included claims of Cody making sexist comments, being a poor leader and driving over a dead body at a crime scene. Initially, the newspaper refrained from reporting on these allegations, as they were unable to independently verify the allegations.
From Page 4 of the complaint:
In mid-to-late April 2023, around the time of Chief Cody’s application for the job, the Marion County Record began investigating various allegations of misconduct against Cody, based on anonymous sources who had worked with Cody in Kansas City but declined to go on record with their claims.
Meanwhile, on April 21, 2023, the Record confirmed that Gideon Cody had accepted a job offer from Marion Mayor David Mayfield to become the new Chief of the Marion Police Department. Chief Cody came to Marion after 24 years with the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department, where he had most recently served as a Captain.
The Record could not obtain Cody’s personnel file from the KCMO police department to independently verify the allegations, so it did not publish the story at the time.
Cody, however, was aware of the Record’s investigation into his prior misconduct.
Specifically, Cody was aware that Ms. Gruver was the one conducting the investigation, having discussed the investigation with her around the time of his hiring in April 2023.