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Police chief sought arrests of Marion newspaper reporters amid backlash from raid

Former Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody
Posted at 12:31 PM, Nov 07, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Newly obtained records reveal Gideon Cody, the former police chief who launched a raid on Marion County Record newspaper, sought the arrest of two reporters and the city's vice mayor.

On Wednesday, Aug. 16, Cody sent an application for arrest warrant to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI).

Cody's request was sent four days after the death of Joan Meyer, co-publisher of the newspaper, and two days after KBI took over the investigation.

In an email to KBI, Cody accused Eric Meyer, publisher of the newspaper; Phyllis Zorn, reporter; and Ruth Herbel, vice mayor of Marion, of committing 15 crimes in total.

Cody's email seeking the arrest of Meyer, Zorn and Herbel was sent two hours before Joel Ensey, Marion County attorney, revoked Cody's search warrants due to a lack of evidence.

Because KBI was the lead agency of the investigation at the time of Cody's application for arrest, KBI would have been in charge of getting a judge to sign off on the application, according to Bernie Rhodes, attorney for the Record newspaper.

"Gideon Cody has no shame," Rhodes said. "Even after Joan Meyer died as a result of this illegal raid, he was pressing forward to get an arrest warrant for Joan’s son, for Phyllis Zorn and Ruth Herbel, despite the international outcry over what happened, over the obvious violation of the First Amendment."

The KSHB 41 News I-Team emailed Melissa Underwood, the spokesperson for KBI, asking if the agency took any additional steps to approve or deny Cody's application.

KBI did not immediately respond.

The I-Team also contacted Ruth Herbel, who said she did not know Cody was seeking her arrest in the days following the raids on the newspaper, her home and the home of Eric Meyer.

"It is hysterical that he would even think about putting an 80-year-old woman in jail," Herbel said. "How many years of life do I even have left?"

Herbel referred to Cody as a "dirtbag" and said, while she wasn't aware of Cody's continued efforts to land her in legal trouble, she wasn't surprised.

Eric Meyer, who laughed when the I-Team asked if he knew Cody was seeking his arrest, said he was already aware.

No evidence from the start

Several legal experts have criticized Cody's affidavits to search the two homes and the newspaper's offices.

Steve Leben, who served as a judge for more than two decades and is now a professor of law at University of Missouri-Kansas City, said Cody never established probable cause that a crime was committed by any of the accused.

"It seems highly disappointing that they went in this direction," Leben said. "I would not think this search warrant should've been approved."

Magistrate Judge Laura Viar signed off on the warrants.

In September, a Topeka resident filed a complaint against Viar with the Kansas Commission on Judicial Misconduct.

The commission took up the complaint and asked Viar to respond in an agenda meeting scheduled for Nov. 3.

The commission's work is confidential up until a certain point. It's not known if that meeting occurred.

Multiple agencies involved before raids

Records obtained by the I-Team also reveal multiple agencies were aware or should've known about Cody's plans to raid the newsroom.

On Aug. 10 — one day before the raids — Todd Leeds, special agent with KBI, sent an email to Zach Hudlin, who was a police officer at the time and has since been appointed chief following Cody's departure, asking, "Did you guys execute this yet?"

Hudlin responded, "No. My understanding is that the county attorney wasn’t in the office today.”

The subject line of the email reads: "Additional SW for Eric Meyer's Residence."

Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey, who for months refused to divulge his level of involvement to the I-Team, sent an email to Cody on on Aug. 12 — the day after the raids were executed — saying, "I believe with the scrutiny this will receive, another judge reviewing the warrant would be a good idea, especially with some of the new information learned during the search."

Ensey recently admitted to the I-Team that Cody did send him copies of his search warrant applications.

In an Oct. 5 email to the I-Team Ensey wrote, "I was first emailed the search warrants on Thursday (Aug. 10), while I was out of the office dealing with personal matters. I first saw the search warrants when I returned to work on Friday (Aug. 11). I previewed the warrants, but did not fully review them as I was prepping for a full day in Court. I did not know the warrants were going to be served on that Friday, until my staff received a call from Mr. Cody stating he had a team ready to serve the warrants. At that time, my office staff did take the warrants up for the judge to review, but at no time prior to their execution did I approve them or provide a legal opinion as to their sufficiency."

City will not release public records

The KSHB 41 News I-Team has requested several records, including Cody's text messages and personal emails, which the city of Marion denied access to despite state law that allows the public access to such records.

The I-Team previously revealed claims that Cody directed a witness to delete text messages.

Max Kautsch, a media attorney based in Lawrence and the president of the Kansas Coalition for Open Government, is looking into the city's denials.

Kautsch, who also reviewed Cody's search warrants, criticized the former chief's lack of evidence and now questions why Cody persisted in seeking the arrest of two reporters and the vice mayor.

"You just have to wonder, if those elements are not there and yet folks are proceeding, why are they doing that?" Kautsch said.

Rhodes, the newspaper's attorney, said it's shocking Cody persisted despite the immediate backlash, the death of Joan Meyer and the fact KBI took over as the lead agency.

"(Cody) was right by George and he was going to arrest people to prove his point," Rhodes said.