Law enforcement officials raided the Marion County (Ks) Record on Friday evening, seizing computers and reporters’ personal cellphones as part of an investigation into alleged identity theft of a restaurant operator who feuded with the newspaper. The newspaper had also been investigating the past employment history of the Marion chief of police, who formerly worked for the KCPD. As the New York Post puts it, “the police chief whose ‘Gestapo-style’ raid on a small town newspaper has become the focus of national outrage was being investigated by its reporters over claims of alleged sexual misconduct (while he was with KCPD).”
The raid was conducted by cops armed with a search warrant that I still can’t believe any judge in America would authorize. It seems possible at this point that we’ll eventually find out the affidavit in support of the search warrant contains creative writing by a police chief who has no business being a police chief.
At the same time the newspaper office was being raided, the publisher’s home was being raided by cops as well. A day later the publisher’s 98-year-old mother, co-owner of the newspaper who was a resident of the home and present at the time of the raid, died from the “shock and grief,” according to her son.
The Marion County Record, much like The Landmark, is not the type of newspaper some people think of when they think small papers. It’s not a “we only want happy news, tell us about the high school sports teams and garage sales and stuff” kind of publication. So this is a situation to which The Landmark–and our readers–can relate. Longtime Landmark readers can recall multiple instances of attempted retaliation against The Landmark. On the surface, this over-the-top and likely unconstitutional raid on the Marion County Record smells of retaliation. The newspaper owner is indicating he’ll file a federal lawsuit over the action. The news guy may end up getting a nice retirement fund out of this.
Journalistic organizations across the globe are reporting on the story and at least one group has offered $20,000 for the publisher to use in his legal action. The newspaper has brought in noted Kansas City attorney Bernie Rhodes, who specializes in media-related cases. He represents the Kansas City Star, among others. Bernie Rhodes doesn’t mess around. Bernie isn’t dropping in for a pillow fight. Landmark readers may recall our newspaper contacted Bernie Rhodes multiple times for comments while we were covering the Nan Johnston-City of Parkville circus a couple of years ago. Rhodes sent a scorching letter to the Marion police chief, who probably should be in one of those “Wanna Get Away?” commercials right about now.
Rhodes’ initial letter to police chief Gideon Cody said, in part: “I can assure you that the Record will take every step to obtain relief for the damages your heavy-handed actions have already caused my client. This letter offers you an opportunity to mitigate those damages going forward. If I were you, I would jump at this opportunity.” Rhodes at one point writes: “As Joan Meyer said less than 24 hours before she died: ‘These are Hitler tactics.’ She is right.”
Rhodes goes on to say that by treating the local paper “as a drug cartel or street gang” the police chief has violated the constitutions of both Kansas and the United States. Rhodes says the search “plainly violated the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution” and three sections of the Kansas Bill of Rights.
I don’t know Eric Meyer, the 69-year-old editor and publisher of the Marion County Record, but it feels like we’re kindred spirits so I will be reaching out to him soon. Let the man plan his mother’s funeral and get a newspaper on the streets this week–which will be a challenge in itself–before I bother him with a phone call. My advice and encouragement to him will be simple and direct. It’s a strategy The Landmark has used in situations involving shady public officials/and or shady actions by public officials. Show that you’re not intimidated by picking up the intensity a notch. Keep squeezing the lemon because you’re already getting some juice. And you haven’t even printed any of the information you have on the chief’s history just yet. Metaphorically speaking, the chief has already fired his best shot while all your ammo is still at the ready. Each week, squeeze out a little of the information the chief doesn’t want in the paper. Give it the drip-drip effect until the situation is where it needs to be for the public good. I like to think of this as the humane approach. The smart ones will eventually tap out. The not-as-smart ones will hang on too long and worsen their own situation. Always save your best stuff for last in case you need to go nuclear.
Bottom line is the journalistic squeeze hasn’t even begun and the chief’s head is already spinning to the point it’s possible he has already committed a career-ending act by conducting that search and seizure.
Wanna Get Away?
(Fight corruption with The Landmark. Email Foley at email@example.com)