One week later: Where things stand in Marion

Police Chief Gideon Cody was indeed under investigation for sexual misconduct at his previous job.

It’s been one week since cops in Marion, Kansas stormed the office of the Marion County Record, as well as owner Eric Meyer’s home. Since then, Meyer’s 98-year-old mother passed away; the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has taken over; the White House has weighed in; we’ve learned about skeletons in the closet of the judge who signed the search warrant; the county prosecutor ordered the return of all electronics seized in the raids; and we received confirmation on my scoop that Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody had, in fact, left his former job amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Oh yea, and the staff at the Record managed to produce and print an entire paper

I reached Meyer late Thursday via email to ask him about the road ahead. His reply? “There's a BUNCH of stuff coming next -- possibly even a smoking gun behind all of this -- but we're not quite ready to break it yet. Suffice it to say, we're working on it virtually round the clock.”

He added a sober reminder that he’s, “trying to arrange funeral services at the same time.”

It’s a lot to digest, even for someone who’s been following the story closely. I’ll attempt to break it down here, as I find the better you understand the story upfront, the better you’ll be able to follow along as this blockbuster saga continues to unfold.

Search warrant withdrawn

Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey said in a statement Wednesday that he concluded there was “insufficient evidence” to establish a “legally sufficient nexus between this alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.” 

According to the Record’s lawyer Bernie Rhodes, all electronics seized by the Marion PD would be returned to their rightful owner. Rhodes told The Star: “We have stopped the hemorrhaging. But it does nothing about taking care of the damage that has already occurred from the violation of the First Amendment in the first place.”

Rhodes then said he and Meyer planned to immediately hand over the seized electronics to a forensics expert who could determine whether the devices had been accessed or tampered with by the Marion PD. Meyer’s biggest concern, as expressed to The Handbasket last Saturday, was the paper’s investigation into Police Chief Gideon Cody and identities of the sources who blew the whistle on his past indiscretions. 

KBI joins the fray

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is now the lead agency on the inquiry into what the hell really happened in the days leading up to the Marion police raids. “As we transition, we will review prior steps taken and work to determine how best to proceed with the case,” A KBI spokesperson told the Kansas City Star. “Once our thorough investigation concludes, we will forward all investigative facts to the prosecutor for review.”

On Thursday, Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach—a guy who was so bad at his former job as Secretary of State that he was ordered by a federal judge to take remedial law classes—confirmed Wednesday that KBI was looking into a possible data breach of the Kansas Criminal Justice Information System in Marion. 

“Their role as I understand it is not an evaluation of constitutional claims about the raid,” Kobach told reporters. (Pardon my skepticism that this guy understands it.)

Other than those few nuggets, there’s been little public acknowledgement by local and state law enforcement as to why the KBI has taken over. I imagine that will become clear in the coming days.

Sexual misconduct allegations confirmed

The Star confirmed my reporting from Saturday that Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody left his previous job amidst allegations of sexual misconduct. In a story published Thursday, the Star spoke with former colleagues of Cody’s at the Kansas City Police Department, who said that indeed he departed the department under a cloud. 

They say Gideon was, “under internal review for allegedly making insulting and sexist comments to a female officer,” who filed a hostile work environment complaint against him earlier this year. Cody was investigated and temporarily given a less desirable assignment. At the conclusion of the internal investigation, he was told he’d be demoted: Instead of accepting those terms, he left the department after 24 years, and traveled two or so hours southwest to Marion to head up its police department for half the salary. 

Meyer and Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel—whose home was also raided last Friday—reportedly received a deluge of objections after Cody’s hiring was announced.

Judge’s DUI

As soon as the news of the raids broke, one of the main questions that kept bubbling up was how on Earth a judge even agreed to sign off on the search warrant. Copious reviews by legal experts could find no reason that an investigation into local business owner Kari Newell’s past DUI would prompt such a historic breach of freedom. Now it seems Magistrate Judge Laura Viar has some questions about her own DUIs to answer.

A Wichita Eagle investigation found that Viar was hired in Marion after previously serving as lead prosecutor in nearby Morris County. From January to August 2012, Viar racked up two DUI arrests. The details of the second arrest are particularly disturbing:

The second — in Morris County on Aug. 6, 2012 — came amid an unopposed reelection bid for Morris County attorney. She was not supposed to be driving because her driver’s license was suspended in the Coffey County case, court records show. She reportedly drove off-road and crashed into a school building next to Council Grove’s football field while driving then-8th District Magistrate Judge Thomas Ball’s vehicle.

The Eagle has been unable to determine whether Viar disclosed these arrests to the judicial nominating commission in Marion County, and it’s unclear how the case was ultimately resolved.

Mysteriously, according to the Eagle, “The case does not exist in the state’s court records system, and no follow-up articles appear in any publicly available newspaper archives.”

The White House weighs in

The news of the police raids in Marion has even made it to the White House. On Wednesday, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that raids raise, “a lot of concerns and a lot of questions for us.”

She said freedom of the press “is the core value when we think about our democracy,” and “We’ll continue to reaffirm and protect this fundamental right enshrined in the First Amendment.”

It was a fairly anodyne response to what may turn out to be one of the most brazen violations of the First Amendment in American history, but it’s likely the West Wing is waiting for more details before fully weighing in. 

I’ll keep you posted on Meyer’s “smoking gun.”

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