NewsLocal NewsInvestigations


Affidavits reveal what evidence police used to raid Kansas newspaper

Marion County Record Search Warrant.png
Posted at 10:09 PM, Aug 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-20 09:55:48-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The KSHB 41 I-Team obtained three affidavits in relation to the raids on Marion County Record, the newspaper owner's home and the city vice mayor's home.

The affidavits, provided by the attorney for the newspaper, lay out what evidence police used to get a judge to sign off on the warrant to search the properties.

Affidavit for Eric Meyer's home

The nine-page affidavit to search the home of Eric Meyer, owner of Marion County Record, reveals much of what's already known: Marion Chief of Police Gideon Cody accused the newspaper of illegally obtaining Kari Newell's driving information.

Cody claimed the crimes involved in this case were identity theft and unlawful use of a computer.

The claim Cody presents in the affidavit to the judge as to how the alleged crimes were committed is also already known: The newspaper downloaded Newell's driving record from a state website, something the newspaper admitted to doing.

Meyer previously told reporters he's the one who contacted police, concerned that a tip his staff received with Newell's driving record, may have been illegally obtained.

Cody confirms in the affidavit he learned of the situation through an email from Meyer.

Newell is a local restaurant owner who Cody centered his investigation around.

In the affidavit, Cody wrote, "On Friday, August 4, 2023 at or around 1851 hours, I received an email from Eric Meyer. In the email he states that he received a copy of someone's private Department of Revenue Records (DOR). In the email he alleged possible police misconduct regarding how the Department of Revenue Record was obtained."

The affidavit from Cody goes on to accuse Phyllis Zorn, an employee at the newspaper, of downloading Newell's information from a state website, something Zorn admitted to doing by using her own information.

Cody claims Zorn broke the law, writing: "Downloading the document involved either impersonating the victim or lying about the reasons the record was being sought."

Yet, Cody acknowledged DOR informed him Zorn was the person who accessed the information.

Earlier in the week, the newspaper told the I-Team Zorn didn't hide that she was the one seeking Newell's information in an effort to confirm a tip.

Meyer told reporters his staff began looking into Newell's driving history based on a tip the newspaper received in a message through social media. The affidavit acknowledges Meyer sent the tip to police, which was a screenshot of Newell's DOR information.

Bernie Rhodes, the newspaper's attorney, said Zorn did nothing illegal under state law.

The only other claim Cody makes in the affidavit as a means for searching Meyer's personal and business properties, is that Newell claims Meyer threatened her during a phone call, stating she said: 'If you pursue anything I will print the story and will continue to use everything I can to come at you. I will own your restaurant.'"

Meyer told the I-Team Cody never contacted him after he notified police about the tip he received.

Police raided Meyer's business and home a week later.

The affidavit supports Meyer's claims, as Cody gives no indication he ever spoke with Meyer before the raids, only that he contacted Newell.

Marion County Record affidavit
The affidavit to search Meyer's home is the same as the affidavit to search Marion County Record.

Ruth Herbel affidavit

Ruth Herbel, vice mayor for City of Marion, also had her home raided by police.

The affidavit lays out the same allegations against the newspaper, only in Herbel's case, Cody suggests she broke the law by sharing the same tip the newspaper received with Brogan Jones, Marion City administrator.

Sharing the information with Jones is the only thing Cody accuses Herbel of doing, aside from not wanting to approve a liquor license for Newell.

Cody writes: "Brogan stated Ruth wanted to deny the renewal of Kari's liquor/caterers' license based on the DOR record and that the license was on the city's agenda for a meeting the same afternoon."

According to the affidavit, three days after Meyer shared the tip with Cody, Cody reached out to Jones and informed Jones an investigation should be launched. That was on Aug. 7.

Later that same day, Newell confronted Herbel at a city council meeting and said: "It was brought to my attention today that my private, personal information that was illegally obtained by a local reporter, was shared with council member Ruth Herbel."

The affidavit confirms Herbel received Newell's information through social media.

Meyer defended himself during that meeting, saying he did not obtain the information — it was provided to him through a tip. Meyer also denied he was the one who shared the information with Herbel.

Two days later, on Aug. 9, the Record published a story about the meeting.

In the story, Meyer wrote about Newell's accusations against the paper and the vice mayor. In doing so, Meyer reported he was given information about Newell's driving record, which included a DUI.

Cody sought the signed warrant on Aug. 11, two days after the story ran.

The Aug. 9 story is used as evidence in the affidavit.

Email attached to affidavit from Marion City administrator

Attached to Herbel's affidavit is an email Cody obtained, which is from Brogan Jones to two city employees. The email is dated Aug. 4, three days before Cody said he reached out to Jones suggesting an internal investigation be launched.

Jones writes to the mayor and the clerk: "I received this (Newell's DOR information) from Ruth just earlier. First, I want to state that Chief/PD will not be looking into this. Secondly, the state is the oversight for this and will conduct all this type of research. We as a city need to stay out of this 'hearsay,' or whatever else you want to call it. We will go forward like any other individual or business and let the state handle their business."

Jones writes in his email that the information about Newell's driving record was put on Facebook by one of Newell's friends.

Rhodes' full statement:

The Marion County District Court furnished the Record with a statement by Magistrate Judge Laura Viar at 3:12 p.m. on the day of the illegal searches that 'there is not a probable cause affidavit filed.'

We have now discovered that the probable cause affidavits were not filed with the District Court until three days after the illegal searches were executed.

While the affidavits purport to be signed before Magistrate Viar on the day of the illegal searches, no explanation has been provided why they were not filed prior to the execution of the illegal searches.

The affidavits establish that Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody knew that Phyllis Zorn, a reporter for the Record, had been given a copy of Kari Newell’s driver’s record and that the only thing Zorn did was verify the authenticity of that record by going to the public website of the Kansas Department of Revenue. She did not access the Kansas Criminal Justice Information System.

What Zorn did is perfectly legal under both Kansas and U.S. law.

The very first sentence of the Kansas statute on disclosure of driver’s licenses states: 'All motor vehicle records shall be subject to the provisions of the open records act.' Zorn had every right, under both Kansas law and U.S. law, to access Newell’s driver’s record to verify the information she had been provided by a source. She was not engaged in 'identity theft' or 'unauthorized computer access' but was doing her job.

That is undoubtedly why the Marion County Attorney has now withdrawn the search warrants because, to use his own words, 'insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.'

As I have said numerous times in the last week, it is not a crime in American [sic] to be a reporter. These affidavits prove that the only so-called 'crime' Chief Cody was investigating was being a reporter."

This is a developing story and will be updated.