KANSAS CITY, Mo. — KSHB 41 News, through its attorney, has sent a letter to the city of Marion demanding the release of Gideon Cody’s personal text messages and emails.
Cody, the former Marion police chief, erroneously claimed two newspaper reporters and the city’s vice mayor committed various crimes by obtaining a local business woman’s driving information.
As a result, Cody launched a raid on Marion County Record newspaper, the publisher’s home and the vice mayor’s home in August.
Joan Meyer, co-owner of the newspaper, died from sudden cardiac arrest one day after police raided her home.
The request, according to Newell, came after the raids and after the owner of the newspaper threatened to sue the city.
Cody resigned four days later.
In Hill’s Oct. 30 denial, Hill writes, “As it relates to personal emails and text messages, the City has no custody over personal cell phones and KORA provides no enforcement mechanism to obtain text messages from personal cell phones. As such, obtaining text messages from the personal property of the listed individuals would place an unreasonable burden on the City, and, to the extent any such records even exist, the City is under no obligation to produce such records."
Hill’s claims that the city has no custody over personal cell phones, that searching for the records would create a burden and that the city is under no obligation to produce the records, is not true.
A 2016 amendment to the Kansas Open Records Act makes personal cell phones and emails subject to open record laws.
Max Kautsch, media law attorney, said if Hill’s denial stands, the law isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
“What’s troubling is that the agency seems to be saying that it isn’t a public record to begin with and that the agency doesn’t have control over it,” Kautsch said. “That just completely and totally eviscerates the language of the 2016 amendments.”
Monica Dias, Senior Counsel for Scripps Media, Inc., KSHB’s parent company, sent a letter to Hill demanding she release the records.
Dias writes, “The denials provide no evidence supported by KORA for the City’s claim of ‘unreasonable burden.’ Instead, the Denials argue erroneously that the City is not a custodian of the Requested Records from personal email accounts/cell phones of Cody and other City officials and cannot compel a search and is under no obligation to search for and produce the Requested Records.”
Newly obtained body camera footage reveals the former police chief spoke with Newell about his investigation during the raids and told her not to put anything in writing.
Cody called Newell after she sent him a text message and immediately tells Newell, “We can’t write anything.”
Newell responded, “I know, I understand.”
The rest of Cody and Newell’s exchange:
Newell: I just got a message from someone at the hotel saying that the whole staff of the newspaper is out on the sidewalk and all of the equipment is leaving the building.”
Cody: Yeah, it’s surprising how that works, isn’t it?
Newell: Wow, that was fast.
Cody: Yeah, and I just hit Ruth’s and Eric’s (Marion County Record newspaper).
Newell: Holy sh**.
Cody: Now I’m heading to Eric’s house.
Cody also raided the home of Ruth Herbel, the vice mayor of Marion who was recently ousted by voters.
While body camera footage reveals what happened the day of the raids, it’s not known what discussions took place leading up to the raids.
While Hill denied KSHB 41’s requests for Cody’s personal emails and text messages, she did provide the I-Team with emails from Cody and another police officer’s work account.
One email reveals an agent for Kansas Bureau of Investigation knew Cody planned to raid the newsroom.
Todd Leeds, special agent for KBI, sent an email to a Marion police officer one day before the raids writing, “Did you guys execute this today?”
KBI took over Cody’s investigation after the raids. While questions remain about KBI’s involvement, the agency will not provide any information, citing its pending investigation.
Dias, on behalf of Scripps Media, Inc., demands the city of Marion “retain and preserve all records responsive to the Requests, including records stored on personal devices and personal email accounts of all city officials.”
Jennifer Hill confirmed Cody, along with other city officials, have been instructed to preserve all emails, text messages and any relevant information.
Initially, Dias demanded the records be released no later than Nov. 22, 2023.
Hill responded that she was out of the office due to the Thanksgiving holiday and asked for an extension.
Hill has until Wednesday to supply the records to KSHB 41.
Dias writes, “If the City fails to produce the Requested Records, Scripps will evaluate its options, including litigation seeking immediate access to the Requested Records and recovery of attorneys’ fees, costs and statutory damages.”