Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody violated a prime commandment for small-town officials: Don’t make waves.
That’s why Cody now finds himself without a job, having resigned Monday after leading an unconstitutional raid on the Marion County Record newspaper. He and his department seized computers and cellphones, igniting a global furor, only to see their search warrants withdrawn by the county attorney five days later.
Cody never quite understood why his overreach created a national frenzy. He huffed and puffed and defended his officers. But each revelation made clear that he couldn’t be trusted to oversee the department.
“If they were any other Joe Citizen, no one would think twice,” he told the Washington Post in August. “But because they’re journalists, I am being attacked everywhere.”
Yes, chief. That’s the point. That’s why you had to go.
Cody’s original investigation into supposed identity theft continues, now under the steadier hand of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. But the chief’s position looked less and less tenable in recent weeks, as news stories and open records requests ate away at his original justifications for the searches. The Kansas Department of Revenue said the record at the center of the case was actually public. Reporters learned that Cody departed from the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department under the cloud of an internal investigation.
Most recently, body cam footage showed the chief looking through a folder of information about him collected by a reporter. And according to reporting from Jessica McMaster of KSHB-TV, he asked restaurateur Kari Newell (whose complaints ignited this conflagration) to delete text messages between them.
An official with an ironclad constitution might have withstood any one of those challenges on its own. He could have kept his head down, zipped his lips and forged ahead. Cody couldn’t outrun his actions and their consequences.
He had to go.
An official with an ironclad constitution might have withstood any one of those challenges on its own. He could have kept his head down, zipped his lips and forged ahead. Cody couldn't outrun his actions and their consequences.
Former Record reporter Deb Gruver already has filed a lawsuit against Cody, and only the extremely naive would expect that to be the final word on legal action. Record editor and publisher Eric Meyer would appear to have an exceptionally strong case against the town. In case anyone forgot, his 98-year-old mother died shortly after the raid, which included the unwelcome intrusion of law enforcement agents on her home.
I doubt that Cody’s departure will stop the questions. Leaders in Marion may hope to paint him as a single rogue agent, but his actions were aided and abetted by a whole cast of local characters. Who hired him? Who supported him? Who persisted in thinking he was the best choice for Marion after the newspaper had raised alarms?
What about County Attorney Joel Ensey, who still hasn’t answered questions from journalists about approving Cody’s application for a search warrant? What about Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, who signed those applications and allowed everything to move forward?
“The wagons seem to be circling,” Meyer told McMaster. “We’ll see who, when the music stops, who’s left without a chair.”
Officials will try to turn down the volume. With Cody gone, they will try to calm the waters once again.
Those of us dedicated to telling the truth about what happened Aug. 11 won’t let that happen.
Marion has suffered a grievous wound. Those affected include Meyer, his staff and even Newell, who has faced anonymous abuse. Gruver has left the paper, and reporter Phyllis Zorn has grappled with health effects.
That wound can only be disinfected through the stinging application of full transparency, on all levels of government.
That wound can only be sutured with the sharp needle of consequences for those who did harm.
And that wound can only be healed through the full and continuing dedication of the residents of Marion — of Kansas as a whole — to never let our precious right to free speech be taken for granted.
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.