After his department carried out a contentious raid on a local newspaper last month that drew condemnation from press advocates over whether it violated First Amendment rights, the police chief of a small Kansas town was suspended on Thursday.
The Marion County Record, the same newspaper that was searched, announced Friday that Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody had been fired. The suspension was verified by Marion Mayor Brogan Jones to the Associated Press on Saturday.
On August 11, police searched the newspaper and took personal cellphones, computers, the file server, and other tools. The 98-year-old co-owner of the newspaper, Joan Meyer, had her home raided by police as well. The following day, August 12, Meyer fell ill and passed away at her home.
Cody claims that journalist Phyllis Zorn obtained local restaurateur Kari Newell’s driving records unlawfully, per the search warrant. The Record reported that Newell had accused the publication of acquiring material about him illegally and giving it to Marion Councilwoman Ruth Herbel regarding his drunk driving.
Regarding the approval date of the search warrant, there are additional uncertainties. The three probable cause affidavits that formed the basis of the request were not filed in state court until August 14, or three days after the search, according to a statement given to CBS News by newspaper attorney Bernie Rhodes in the middle of August.
The affidavits, which CBS News was able to get, state that Magistrate Judge Laura Viar signed them on August 11.
“While the affidavits purport to have been 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,” Rhodes stated in a statement back in August.
A week or so after the raid, Joel Ensey, the Marion County Attorney, declared that there was “insufficient evidence” to support the raid and that he had ordered police to return all items they had taken.
An impartial inquiry into the incident is being carried out by the Kansas Bureau of inquiry. The Record claims that Mayfield first resisted suspending Cody until the bureau’s inquiry findings had been made public. The public has not yet seen this report.
The federal Privacy Protection Act shields newsrooms and journalists from the majority of police searches, necessitating the issuance of subpoenas rather than search warrants.