TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas police chief who led an August raid on a small weekly newspaper seemed to have the support of most city leaders in the weeks since the search, despite public outcry and calls for his resignation.
But that changed quickly once details began emerging about Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody’s conduct. Cody was suspended Thursday, the same day a television station reported that he asked a local restaurant owner to delete text messages. Then body camera video of the Aug. 11 search of the Marion County Record was released — and it appeared to show Cody looking at a reporter’s investigative file about him. Emails about the raid also emerged. By Monday, he resigned.
The raid on the paper, along with related searches of the homes of its publisher and a City Council member, put the town of 1,900 residents some 150 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City at the center of a national debate over press freedoms. The raids also focused an intense spotlight on Cody’s motives because the paper had been looking into his past.
Here are the latest details:
On the day Cody was suspended, Kansas City television station KSHB aired a story based on an interview with local restaurant owner Kari Newell. She said that after the raids, Cody asked her to delete text messages between them, fearing people could get wrong ideas about their relationship, which she said was professional and platonic.
“I foolishly did it and immediately did have regrets,” she told The Associated Press on Monday.
Newell said she spoke Sept. 26 with a Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent who was newly assigned to look into Cody’s conduct. The next day, she told City Administrator Brogan Jones that information about the texts would be coming out.
Asked about the meeting, Jones said in an email, “Yes she came in and voiced her concerns.”
Cody did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment about his resignation and responses to Newell’s statements. Marion Mayor Dave Mayfield also declined to discuss the resignation, calling it a personnel matter.
In internal police reports and applications to a judge for search warrants, Cody said he had evidence of crimes involving the circulation of information about Newell’s driving record. She owns two Marion restaurants and obtained the City Council’s backing for a state liquor license for one of them Aug. 1.
She has acknowledged having a past misdemeanor drunken driving offense and also that she did not have a valid driver’s license for years, though it has been reinstated.
A former friend gave the newspaper and City Council member Ruth Herbel copies of a letter from the state to Newell about reinstating her license, and she texted an electronic copy to Jones.
The Record obtained the letter and verified its authenticity through an online state database, using the driver’s license number and date of birth for Newell, which were contained in the document. Publisher Eric Meyer told Cody via email that the paper got the document from a source it did not name. That was Aug. 4.
Newell said that on Aug. 7, Cody contacted her and told her he believed she had been the victim of a crime.
Emails obtained by The AP through an open records request show that also on Aug. 7, Cody emailed Jones to suggest they discuss the matter.
In another email, sent to the local prosecutor, he outlined what he thought the evidence was showing, giving it the subject line, “Crimes?” That prosecutor would later say there wasn’t enough evidence to justify the raids.
On Aug. 8, Cody emailed the KBI’s office in Wichita, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) to the southwest. Within an hour, Special Agent Todd Leeds replied that he was forwarding the matter to the special agent in charge for her review.
Two days later, Leeds emailed Cody and asked him for the cellphone numbers, Facebook account names and email addresses for Newell, Newell’s former friend, Herbel, Meyer, and Record reporter Phyllis Zorn.
“I am getting a case opened up today,” Leeds wrote.
That evening, Leeds sent Marion Police Officer Zach Hudlin an email about a search warrant for Meyer’s home. “Did you guys execute this today?” Leeds asked. No, Hudlin replied, though the warrant would be executed the next day.
Meyer lived at the home with his 98-year-old mother, Joan, the paper’s co-owner, who died the day after the raid. He blames stress caused by the raid for her death.
The KBI has declined to discuss the details of its investigation. Its spokesperson did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment about the emails.
Video from the Aug. 11 raid on the newspaper office, from Hudlin’s body camera, shows him looking through the desk of reporter Deb Gruver, who had been looking into anonymous tips about why Cody retired as a police captain in Kansas City, Missouri, in April, just before he became Marion’s chief. The AP obtained the video through an open records request.
The video shows Hudlin beckoning Cody over to look at the contents of a desk drawer, and Cody is heard saying, “Keep a personal file on me. I don’t care.” But Hudlin’s clipboard blocks all but the briefest view of Cody bending over the drawer.
There is no video of that moment from Cody’s own body camera. An AP analysis of the video from both Cody’s and Hudlin’s body cameras shows that Cody left the newspaper office to go to Herbel’s home, then returned. The video shows him turning off his bodycam when he’s done talking to Herbel, about 20 minutes before the search of Gruver’s desk.
Other video from both bodycams show Cody interviewing Zorn, the reporter, in the Recorder newsroom, suggesting that she could face legal problems and hinting that she could implicate Meyer for directing what she did. She remains poker-faced throughout.
At one point, he tells her, “You’re a smart girl.” Later he adds, “I want you to take care of you.”
Vancleave reported from Minneapolis.