Lawsuit against police chief just the latest shoe to drop in Marion newspaper raid case

August 31, 2023 3:33 am
Marion County Record reporter Deb Gruver on Wednesday had the words "FREEDOM OF THE PRESS" tattooed on her arm

Marion County Record reporter Deb Gruver on Wednesday had the words “FREEDOM OF THE PRESS” tattooed on her arm. In her lawsuit, she accuses Police Chief Gideon Cody of “recklessly” violating her constitutional rights. (Submitted by Deb Gruver)

Shhhh. Did you hear that noise? Another shoe dropped in the ongoing drama surrounding the police raid on the Marion County Record.

Reporter Deb Gruver has sued police Chief Gideon Cody. According to Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith’s story: “A lawsuit Gruver filed Wednesday in federal court that says Cody had no legal basis for taking her personal cellphone. She 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.”

This counts as the most recent footwear to hit the linoleum after Marion County attorney Joel Ensey withdrew the search warrant that prompted the newspaper raid. All seized equipment was returned. Smaller shoes, perhaps toddler-sized, hit in subsequent days as the Record’s lawyer demanded the destruction of evidence copied from newspaper computers.

A story like this, one that mixes frothy small-town politics with weighty constitutional issues, comes along once in a generation. Whole closets full of shoes wait offstage, just waiting for an opportunity to fall from above.

A fuzzy slipper will tumble down with nary a warning: “Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody is battling a fraud suit filed Feb. 27 in Leavenworth County over his real estate dealings.”

The Record published that story just this week.

The first few days after the Marion raid, I followed Google News attentively to see what outlets had picked up the story and what angles they chose to pursue. You could watch in real time as reporters and editors struggled to make sense of the raid, the stakes and the players. The Reflector’s inaugural story Aug. 11 set the parameters for a day or two. Then, as usually happens, other reporters began to poke and prod.

The Reflector's inaugural story Aug. 11 set the parameters for a day or two. Then, as usually happens, other reporters began to poke and prod.

– Clay Wirestone

On Aug. 13, KSHB-TV reported that Cody had taken the Marion job after retiring from the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department.

“Look at this,” I told my husband. “This is just the beginning. Watch what happens now.”

I knew that once reporters got wind of a story, especially one as juicy and multifaceted as the Marion raid, they were going to follow every lead. If Cody had faced allegations in his past of impropriety, we would know soon enough.

And so we did. On Aug. 16, the Kansas City Star headline read: “Before Kansas newspaper raid, police chief left KCPD under cloud, facing discipline.” The Record followed with its own comprehensive coverage.

After the raid, I wrote that we needed to be careful about the facts in this case and in how we treat the individuals involved. I still believe that. Folks in small towns — and the rest of the world — must have the option of retaining their privacy when national outlets come calling. But we also can’t ignore that both restarauter Kari Newell and Cody have seized on the opportunity to make their voices heard.

Cody told the Washington Post: “If you live in Marion, you understand. If you don’t live in Marion, you don’t understand.”

Newell told the Star: “I don’t think I can be angry at myself for standing up for myself.”

With self-righteous characters like this at its center, the drama doesn’t look to burn itself out anytime soon. Instead, smouldering embers will ignite innumerable small blazes, and reporters from state and national news media will doggedly cover every one. This is how news works. One way or another, this is how news has always worked. Reflector staff members will follow along, doing our best to distinguish sparks from flames.

More shoes will drop, to remix the metaphor.

The biggest shoe that I’m waiting for is the newspaper’s potential suit against city and law enforcement officials. Bernie Rhodes, an attorney for the Record, has been keeping a close watch on developments. Given the scale of the story and the implications of authorities’ actions, one can only speculate.

We will hear more about Marion city leaders too, not to mention Magistrate Judge Laura Viar. She’s escaped the harshest possible coverage so far, but her approval cleared the way for this gross violation of free speech rights.

Stay tuned, friends. Watch out for those sandals and high heels and cowboy boots.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.