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Restaurant owner details discussions with Marion police chief prior to raid on newspaper

'We believe you've been the victim of a crime'
Posted: 2:54 PM, Sep 21, 2023
Updated: 2023-09-22 23:06:37-04
Kari Newell

MARION, Kan. — In the small town of Marion, Kansas, a single stop sign separates Kari Newell's two restaurants from Marion County Record newspaper.

Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody used Newell's driving record as a premise to raid the newspaper and two homes.

One of the homes belongs to Eric Meyer, publisher of Marion County Record.

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Surveillance video captures members of the Marion, Kansas, Police Department executing a search warrant at the home of Joan Meyer, co-owner of the Marion County Record newspaper. Meyer would die the next day.

Meyer lived with his mom and co-publisher, Joan Meyer, who can be heard on home surveillance yelling at police to get out of her house.

It's one of the last conversations Joan Meyer had.

She died the next day from sudden cardiac arrest.

It's a sequence of tragic events Newell, who many blame for the raids, said she never saw coming.

"Cody did say that he was seeking a warrant," Newell said. "In my pea brain, I did not, in no instance, did I equate that to a raid."

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KSHB 41 I-Team's Jessica McMaster (left) and Kari Newell.

The KSHB 41 News I-Team spoke with Newell on the front porch of her cafe, Kari's Kitchen, for more than two hours as she detailed what happened in the days leading up to the raids.

While guarded and often times speaking with tears in her eyes, Newell answered every question.

When asked what she wants people to know about her involvement, Newell replied, "The truth."

The truth, which the I-Team pieced together through several interviews and court documents, centers around small-town feuds, a bitter divorce and a letter regarding Newell's driving record.

Private matters thrust into the national spotlight due to a police chief who, according to legal experts the I-Team spoke to, provided no evidence of a crime before launching an unprecedented raid on the town's newspaper.

The letter

For Newell, it began with a phone call from Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody four days before the raids on August 7.

We believe you've been the victim of a crime.

"I was actually in divorce court when he tried to call and I didn't answer, obviously," Newell said. "So, then I get a text message and he's like, 'This is chief Cody. I need you to contact me as soon as possible. We believe you've been the victim of a crime.'"

While Newell said she no longer has her text messages from that day, Cody acknowledges in his affidavit he did contact Newell on the morning of Aug. 7.

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The Chef's Plate restaurant at the Elgin Hotel in Marion, Kansas.

Newell said she also got a text message from the owner of the Historic Elgin Hotel, which is where Newell operates one of her restaurants, Chef's Plate at Parlour 1886.

"She said the police had been by and spoke to her and were looking for me," Newell said.

When Newell called Cody back she said the chief told her, "I believe somebody's stolen your mail."

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Letter to Kari Newell

Cody was referring to a letter from the Kansas Department of Revenue that details steps Newell needs to take in order to reinstate her driver's license following a 2008 DUI, which was later diverted.

Chief Cody's entire investigation is centered around how someone obtained the KDOR letter.

Initially, Cody told Newell the letter was stolen from her mailbox. The claim is referenced in Cody's affidavit.

However, after Newell told Cody she had the physical copy of the letter, Cody later accused the newspaper of illegally obtaining Newell's letter from the KDOR website.

According to Newell, Cody told her newspaper staff went to the KDOR site and they accessed her case files and had downloaded that information.

Newell said the chief informed her it was Phyllis Zorn, a Record reporter, who accessed her files.

In Cody's affidavit, he accuses Zorn and the newspaper of committing two crimes against Newell: identity theft and unlawful use of a computer.

Days earlier, Newell kicked Zorn and Eric Meyer out of her cafe during a public event for U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner.

Newell is at odds with the newspaper. She, along with some members of the community, said the paper's reporting is overly aggressive.

When Cody told Newell the newspaper committed a crime against her, Newell thought the newspaper staff was retaliating for kicking them out of her establishment.

Newell said this infuriated her.

"Of course it did. I thought they were just digging up bones to cause harm," Newell said.

Marion, Kansas City Councilwoman Ruth Herbel.

Chief Cody also accused Marion Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel of identity theft and official misconduct, which involves using private information to cause harm.

Herbel was also given a copy of Newell's KDOR letter, which Herbel passed along to the city administrator.

According to Cody's affidavit, Herbel told the city administrator she didn't want to give Newell a liquor license for her restaurant based on Newell's driving record.

Newell publicly accuses the vice mayor and newspaper of a committing a crime

On Aug. 7, the day Cody contacted Newell, Newell was already scheduled to speak at a city council meeting regarding her liquor license.

The timing of Cody's call was the perfect storm, Newell said.

Once Cody told Newell that Herbel and the newspaper staff committed a crime against her, Newell decided to use her time at the podium to confront the vice mayor.

That was really the fuel on this whole thing.

On the Aug. 7 city council audio, Newell can be heard berating Herbel.

"There is a driver's privacy protection act that was breached by Ruth. I'm very disappointed, that as an elected member of our community, you would behave so negligently and maliciously and I really hope that your team members here today take note of exactly how vile your behavior is."

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Screen capture from the Aug. 8, 2023 Marion City Council meeting in Marion, Kansas.

Newell publicly accused both Herbel and a Record reporter of committing crimes against her.

She goes on, "That information was illegally obtained."

Newell said she regrets speaking during the city council meeting.

"That was really the gasoline on this fire," Newell said.

The public did not know Cody contacted Newell earlier that day or the details from their conversation.

Cody's affidavits, which detail his conversations, weren't released until days later.

Without that context, Newell's comments at the council meeting suggested to the public she was the one who decided a crime had been committed and launched a complaint.

It's clear from the council meeting audio someone told Newell a crime was committed against her.

Newell continues, "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."

Herbel asked Newell who her source was, but at the time, Newell wouldn't say.

Small-town ties

Since the raids people have speculated if small-town ties were at play in the decision to raid the newspaper.

The hotel Newell's restaurant operates out of is owned by the county attorney's brother.

During the recorded council meeting, Newell said, "This is going to become a case. This is going to be placed with the county attorney."

Four days later police conducted the raids.

Joel Ensey, the county attorney, refuses to say if he reviewed Cody's warrants prior to the raids, which Ensey later revoked due to a lack of evidence that a crime occurred.

The I-Team asked Newell how she knew the case would be placed with the county attorney.

"I was going to take it to him," Newell said. "I was livid."

Newell told the I-Team she never did speak to Ensey. She added she's only met Ensey twice and does not have a personal relationship with him.

Newell admits Cody did tell her he was seeking a warrant, but insists she didn't understand what that meant.

While Newell said she did want the newspaper and the vice mayor held accountable, based on the premise a crime was committed against her, Newell said she does not agree with the raids.

"I think that in order to teach somebody a lesson sometimes things have to happen," Newell said. "But, I don't think that bringing an entire community to its knees in a screeching halt is the answer."

Newell said her relationship with Cody is typical of that between a citizen and a police chief in a small town.

"I think people very much believed I filed a complaint, I demanded the raid happened, that I was in cahoots with the chief, the mayor, or whoever this week, the judge," Newell said. "There are just a lot of facts missing."

Cody has claimed in various news articles that his raid centered around a complaint made by Newell.

That's misleading.

Newell said she provided a written statement at Cody's behest. Two days after Cody told her she was the victim of a crime.

In Cody's affidavit he writes, "On Wednesday, August 9 2023, Kari provided me with a written statement of events since we last spoke."

While Newell regrets speaking at the meeting due to the backlash, she said she doesn't regret defending herself.

"I was standing up for myself, right wrong or indifferent," Newell said.

An ex-husband, an ex-friend and the letter

Contrary to Cody's claim Phyllis Zorn, Record reporter, illegally obtained Newell's KDOR letter, the letter was provided to the newspaper by Pam Maag, an old friend of Newell.

The I-Team confirmed Newell's ex-husband, Ryan Newell, provided Maag with Kari Newell's driving history.

Maag took the information to the Record.

During a phone conversation, Maag told the I-Team she gave the letter to the newspaper because she was concerned police were turning a blind eye to Newell driving on a suspended license.

Newell admits she was driving illegally.

She said the fees from having her DUI diverted created financial troubles.

"The cost of diversion and not being able to pay fines and then they rack more fines on top of those fines for not paying those fines and court costs, it was strictly financial," Newell said.

The I-Team confirmed Newell now has a driver's license.

In Cody's affidavit, he acknowledges Ruth Herbel obtained the letter from Maag.

Despite knowing where the letter came from, Cody insisted it was the newspaper and Herbel who committed a crime.

Both Maag and Ryan Newell told the I-Team Cody never contacted them.

While Kansas Bureau of Investigations continues to look into the matter, it's unlikely a crime was committed by anyone.

According to KDOR, it's legal to access a person's driving record from the state's website.

Fake reviews and ongoing harassment

Since the raids, Kari Newell's received several fake restaurant reviews and a never-ending barrage of harassment.

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Kari Newell (left) talks with KSHB 41 I-Team's Jessica McMaster

Newell played one of her voice mails for the I-Team, which is laced with profanity.

"Kari Newell, you f****** c***, I hope you and your business f****** fail, you b****."

Another person left a voice mail blaming Newell for Joan Meyer's death.

"They're calling me a killer," Newell said.

Google has removed the fake restaurant reviews, but it's done little to help bring people back to Newell's restaurants.

Newell said business is down 60 percent. She's not sure if her restaurants will survive.

Eric Meyer's blames chief Cody

A block away from Kari's Kitchen it's business as usual for Eric Meyer and the reporters at the Marion County Record.

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Marion County Record newspaper owner and publisher Eric Meyer

"From our perspective, we gotta get back to covering something other than this because the readers of Marion, Kansas, want to know the news in Marion, Kansas," Meyer said.

Eric Meyer is the one who told Cody about the KDOR letter.

In an email on Aug. 4, Meyer emailed Chief Cody and the Marion County Sheriff's Department, letting them know the newspaper received a tip about Newell's driving record that may not have been legally obtained.

According to Cody's affidavit, Cody didn't read Meyer's email until Aug. 7. It's the same day he contacted Newell.

Cody never followed up with Meyer.

The KSHB 41 I-Team reached out to Cody numerous times to ask him why he forged ahead on an investigation that legal experts say had no merit, but he refuses to talk.

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KSHB 41 I-Team reporter Jessica McMaster asks a question to Marion, Kansas, Chief of Police Gideon Cody on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023 in Marion, Kansas.

Meyer said he never planned to publish the story about Newell's driving history as he was concerned, not only about how the information was obtained, but also about the tipsters motive.

"This is a dispute between her [Newell's] estranged husband and it didn't really have any public interest," Meyer said.

Meyer also addressed Cody's claims that he was merely investigating a complaint from Newell.

"Chief Cody, in various articles said, 'This person came to me with a crime,'" Meyer said. "We knew this wasn't true"

As for the harassment against Newell, Meyer doesn't like it, either.

"I have thought from day one that this was one of the stupidest things," Meyer said. "They're attacking Kari. They're attacking clerks in offices that have nothing to do with this. People are getting death threats."

Like Newell, Meyer said he's concerned about Newell's businesses.

"We've worried a lot about the fact that we don't want this to come out to be something that puts Kari out of business," Meyer said. "The town needs Kari's business. She really does seem to care about doing her business well."

Meyer describes Newell as a passionate person who doesn't like injustice. Meyer was not surprised by Newell's response to Cody's information.

"If somebody tells you that you've had your rights violated, she's going to assume she had her rights violated," Meyer said. "She's going to be mad about and she's going to yell at everybody about it."

Prior to the raids, the newspaper was investigating tips about Cody's time as a police captain at Kansas City, Missouri Police Department.

Meyer wonders if that played a role in Cody's decision to raid the newsroom.

"I ultimately just kind of think she's [Newell] just a pawn in this whole thing," Meyer said. "This is a deal that somebody else did for some other reasons."

Meyer said Cody's ultimately responsible.

"We have a police officer - a police chief, who apparently doesn't understand the law," Meyer said. "No crime was committed. The only crime that was committed was how he searched our office. He should not be a police chief. That's the issue.

Processing the journey

During Newell's interview, she sat quietly at times, trying to process the amount of changing information brought to her over a short period of time.

A police chief told Newell a crime was committed against her.

Newell later learned it stemmed from a tip to the newspaper provided by an old friend and an ex-husband.

"It's hard for me to look at all the information- where everything is coming," Newell said. "I'm not knowing who to trust or what to trust at this point. I'm very on guard."

Newell said Cody, Judge Laura Viar, who signed off on the warrants, and Joel Ensey, the county attorney who later revoked the warrants, should've done their jobs more thoroughly.

"You can't unring that bell," Newell said. "I wanna be like, you look dirty, you look dirty, and was I a pawn in this? Was I used as some kind of token in a BS spatter between a bunch of people?"

Days after the raids, Eric Meyer released the video of his mother's last hours.

"You can't unring that bell," Newell said.

It's Joan Meyer's encounter with police, as they rummaged through her home and private belongings.

It's a video that's been seen across the world, but one Newell can't bring herself to watch.

"The notion that an elderly woman spent her last day on this earth feeling terrified, intimated, heartbroken, betrayed...I can't even imagine what her mind was going through," Newell said. "I think it's heartbreaking."

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article was inaccurate in stating Pam Maag downloaded Newell’s letter from a state website. The information has been updated accurately.”