- The Handbasket
- A convo with 'Marion County Record' owner two weeks post-police raid
A convo with 'Marion County Record' owner two weeks post-police raid
“The question of who got the document and where it came from is resolved... So, if everybody knew where it came from, why do you have to have a search warrant?"
It’s been a little more than two weeks since law enforcement officers raided the office of the Marion County Record newspaper and the home of its owner, Eric Meyer. The raids set off a shockwave across the country about the state of press freedom and increasingly brazen police overreach, and the Washington Post says the interview “Meyer gave to a Brooklyn-based journalist barely 24 hours after the raid,” was what, “helped the story go viral nationally.” (It’s me, the Brooklyn-based journalist.)
The initial chaos of the first few days have passed for Meyer and his staff, but now he tells me it’s becoming increasingly clear that the search warrants were granted under false pretenses.
Over the weekend, the Record reported that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation had finally interviewed two central figures in the DUI rumor about local business owner Kari Newell. (If you recall, it was the rumor that was supposedly the basis for Police Chief Gideon Cody’s request for a search warrant, claiming the information had been accessed illegally by the newspaper.) Newell’s estranged husband Ryan Newell and former friend Pam Maag admitted in interviews with the KBI last week that they were the ones who supplied the Record with the DUI tip.
Meanwhile, even though a judge demanded the sheriff’s office immediately return all materials seized in the raid, there remains one outstanding item that wasn’t on the list for the forensic examiner: a USB drive with a copy made of records on one the newspaper’s computers.
“Because that drive is still in the sheriff’s office’s custody, that means the sheriff still has access to the Marion County Record’s data — data that is both constitutionally protected and protected by federal and state law,” the Record reports their lawyer, Bernie Rhodes, wrote in a letter Wednesday to county counsel Brad Jantz. “This access is illegal. It also clearly violates the district court’s Aug. 16 order.”
I caught up with Meyer by phone Monday afternoon to find out the latest in the investigation, and hear what he thinks is next for the police chief.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Marisa Kabas, The Handbasket: We've talked a bit over the last couple of weeks, but I wanted to follow up with you just because our initial chat got so much attention, and I was wondering if there were any updates in the investigation.
Eric Meyer, Marion County Record: Well, no, we're still waiting to get the data that they seized from our computers returned, and the county attorney [Joel Ensey] has been kind of—we've had three deals that have come together, and then he's backed out on all three of them.
And the county has hired an independent lawyer to represent it in these discussions.
MK: Why do you think that is?
EM: Well, our attorney says that he thinks he’s [Ensey] using that as a stalling tactic. But the attorney that they hired says he has nothing to do with this, and it's not his fault that Ensey has not signed off. So it's one of those he said, she said things, but I’m not involved in this agreement and I’m not going to comment any further.
MK: So, you're waiting to hear back on the forensic investigation that was done on the items that were seized?
EM: Well, the fact is that they copied part of our hard drive—they copied our network and our server. We don't know the extent of it. We know it's 17 gigabytes of data that they won't return to us. The judge has fairly angrily said, “I have given you specific orders about what you're supposed to do with it.” And he sent that message twice on Friday.
But the county attorney was asking whether the judge would agree to take custody of the drive. And the judge's response was: “I already told you what to do with it, and don't come to me with anything unless you have a joint agreement that you both agreed to about something.” And we can't get him [Ensey] to sign the agreement. And the county attorney is too busy to talk to our attorney.
[Editor’s note: Meyer emailed me this evening right before publication to say an agreement to return the data had finally been reached. I’m waiting to confirm those details.]
MK: I'm curious though…if everything was ordered to be returned to you that was seized during the raids, on what possible grounds could they be holding onto that data?
EM: It’s that it was seized on a piece of equipment that has some FBI thing that goes out and searches an entire computer network for keywords, and copies that material onto this USB drive. They contend that if they gave us the drive, we would get the program which is copyright protected and we would also get material that was gathered as part of other investigations.
So we have suggested that the appropriate thing would be to destroy all the copies because they've copied this data off of there, and then just destroy this drive. Well, they don't want to destroy the drive. I don't know why the drive apparently doesn't have an erase function on it.
It's kind of mind-boggling. I'm not sure that I know what their justification is…
One of the really interesting things is that we've gotten all this outpouring of stuff from around the nation, and a disproportionate number of the comments we've gotten supporting our position have come from people who have long experience in law enforcement. They don't wanna be tarred with this feather. You know, they've got enough people telling them how awful police are that they want people to understand that this is aberrant behavior for law enforcement. Not typical.
MK: Well, do you agree with that narrative?
EM: Yeah, I do, I do. I mean, we hear an awful lot about bad bad cops one place or another, but I think the majority of them are probably pretty good. But, it only takes one. You know the old saying, “Bad apple spoils the bunch,” and it's really true. And I think that a lot of these people are very concerned about [people knowing that] not all cops would do this.
We have a breaking story that Pam Mogg [former friend of Kari Newell] was finally interviewed by the KBI along with Kari’s estranged husband. He'd never been interviewed either and he admits that he gave the document to Pam Mogg, who gave it to us and gave it to the vice mayor.
So the question of who got the document and where it came from is resolved. I mean, everybody says that that's what happened. Even Kari, after she had such a fit about things, admitted that she'd overplayed that [the Record’s involvement] and she knew that’s where it came from. So, if everybody knew where it came from, why do you have to have a search warrant?
MK: So that completely undermines all the reasons they said that they filed the search.
EM: Yep. at least I think it does. But you know, that's for, that's for people to decide once they read all that stuff.
MK: So everything is just continuing apace.
EM: We're continuing. Over 5,000 subscriptions have come in. We've got full page ads that have come in. We've got the outpouring [of support]. We still have yet to receive—out of literally tens of thousands of email messages, phone messages, phone calls, texts, whatever, tens of thousands of them—we have not had one negative comment toward us. Not one, which is amazing. It's amazing. They've all been very supportive.
MK: What about locally? I know initially you said that people were quietly supportive but they were afraid-
EM: And they still are. They're quietly supportive. I just had somebody come down who brought us some cake that he just baked, but he's not going to go out and say anything publicly about it.
I don't believe there's been a person in the city of Marion who has said anything. I don't look at all the social media so I don't know what they say, but they're pretty quiet. One thing we have noticed is that there were a couple of businesses at one time that had “Support the Blue” signs in their windows. They've taken them down.
MK: What do you think the odds are that the police chief will step down? Or what his next move is gonna be?
EM: I am surprised that the police chief has not been suspended already. I am surprised that the council has not decided to meet and take action on him. I am surprised that the mayor who has it within his authority to suspend him has not done so.
So what the city has done instead is hire a firm to investigate. It is a firm that is known for employee relations cases and it appears that it is trying to see whether there is a case to discipline the chief in some way, or to dismiss him. And they're gonna wait for that report.
Now, the strange thing is when they appointed the chief and we raised questions about him at the time, one of the council members said, “Don't forget Kansas is an at-will [employment] state. He doesn't have a contract and we can fire him at any time for no reason at all!” Which is true if he does not, in fact, have a contract.
I don't even know who authorized the investigation. It wasn't the counsel. But, you know, typically if a police officer is accused of anything that's wrong, they're taken off duty and suspended with pay. I mean, that's also called a vacation.
So it doesn't hurt the individual, but it protects the citizens and gives a strong message that we care. And until we find out that everything's okay, we're not going to allow this person to still exercise the considerable powers of a police officer. And I am very surprised that that hasn't happened by now. And very disappointed.
MK: So, as of right now, the top law enforcement officer in Marion is the same person who initiated the raids.
EM: Yes. Gideon Cody.
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