KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A key witness in the raid on a Marion, Kansas, newspaper is accusing Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody of asking her to delete text messages.
In an interview with the KSHB 41 News I-Team earlier this month, Kari Newell said Chief Cody informed her she was the victim of a crime.
Newell said Cody sent her that information via text message on Aug. 7.
“[He] said, 'This is Chief Cody, we believe you've been the victim of a crime,'" Newell said.
Newell is a local restaurant owner whose driving record Cody used as a premise to raid Marion County Record and two homes.
The day of Newell’s interview, Newell said she no longer had the text messages between her and Cody.
The I-Team asked Newell for the text messages between her and Cody, but according to Newell, she deleted the text messages at the chief's behest.
“I did make mention that I didn’t know the necessity of that because there was nothing inappropriate in the text messages,” Newell said in an interview this week.
Newell said the chief’s request came after the raids as rumors began to circulate about Newell and Cody’s relationship, which Newell insists is platonic.
According to Newell, the chief didn't want people to draw conclusions about their relationship based off the texts.
“I kind of agreed and so I did delete those messages against my better judgment and immediately regretted it,” Newell said.
On Tuesday, Newell provided the I-Team with a new set of text messages from Tuesday morning, which Newell says are between her and the chief from that very morning.
“If attorneys or KBI go digging and see I deleted the texts as you asked me to, will I get in trouble?" Newell wrote.
A person identified as Chief Cody in Newell's phone responded.
“Our phones are moot. I didn’t want them to get the wrong impression because you send me a smile emoji. I know you were just being kind. But I don’t trust anyone not making a big deal from a smile emoji.”
Judge Steve Leben, who served on the bench for 27 years and is now a Professor of Law at University of Missouri - Kansas City, said if Cody directed Newell to delete the text, it could cause trouble for him criminally and civilly.
“Police are supposed to preserve evidence,” Leben said. “Not have it be destroyed.”
Depending on the content of Newell and Cody’s discussions, Leben said Cody could have committed a crime if he did in fact ask Newell to delete the texts.
“If the text messages constitute evidence of a crime, it would be a crime to ask someone to delete evidence,“ Leben said.
Newell told the I-Team Cody did vaguely speak with her about his investigation into a newspaper reporter and vice mayor Ruth Herbel, all of whom Cody accused of committing crimes against Newell.
The county attorney revoked Cody's warrants after the raids, citing no evidence that a crime occurred at the places searched.
Leben said it’s hard to say whether or not a crime was committed in the case of Newell's text messages with the chief because, according to Newell, the evidence is gone.
“There’s no way to know what evidence was exchanged between them and what subjects were discussed,” Leben said.
At least one civil lawsuit has been filed against Cody and the city of Marion by a Record reporter, which Leben said could also create civil liability for Cody and the city.
“Normally, you need evidence to prove facts,” Leben said. “But, if someone destroys the evidence so that it can’t be obtained by the other party to a lawsuit, we tell the jury that it can take that into account."
Typically a jury needs evidence to prove facts, but Leben said if evidence was destroyed, a jury can take that into account and is allowed to assume the worst.
"We would not assume it’s innocent if he [Cody] told people to destroy it.” - Judge Steve Leben
Newell recently told the I-Team she did inform an agent with Kansas Bureau of Investigation about the deleted text messages in early September.
On Monday, the KSHB 41 News I-Team contacted KBI and asked if the agency was investigating the matter.
“I unfortunately cannot answer specific questions about the case," KBI spokesperson Melissa Underwood said. "I can tell you we are conducting a thorough investigation into what occurred.”
One day after Underwood’s email, Newell told the I-Team a KBI agent came out to speak with her about the texts and her relationship with Cody.
“He asked if I had any personal involvement with Cody,” Newell said. “I made it very clear I did not.”
Newell said she provided the agent her text messages with the chief from Tuesday.
Cody did not respond to the I-Team's phone call or email.
Jennifer Hill, an attorney with McDonald Tinker out of Wichita, was hired by the city of Marion following the raids.
Hill also represents Cody in a civil case filed against him by a Record reporter.
When asked about Newell's claim the chief directed her to delete text messages, in an email Hill said, “I am investigating it myself.”