Kansas reporter accused of breaking law before controversial Marion County newspaper raid: documents

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The chief of a Kansas police department that recently raided a local newspaper alleged that a reporter lied or misrepresented herself when accessing documents, according to court documents.

The Marion County Record raid, which drew national attention, was led by Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody on Aug. 11. Cody claimed that a reporter lied about her intentions or impersonated someone else when she was gathering the driving records of local businessowner Kari Newell. 

Newell previously argued that the paper violated her privacy and committed a crime by gathering the information about her, but the newspaper has maintained their methods were legal.

Reporter Phyllis Zorn had accessed a public website when gathering information about restaurant operator Kari Newell. Zorn had used Newell’s name in the search, and police believed it was identity theft to do so. A source had also given the paper Newell’s date of birth and license number unsolicited.

KANSAS PROSECUTOR WITHDRAWS SEARCH WARRANTS USED IN CONTROVERSIAL NEWSPAPER RAID AFTER OWNER’S DEATH

surveillance video shows Marion Police Department confiscating computers from the Marion County Record office in Kansas

Surveillance video shows Marion Police Department confiscating computers and cellphones from the publisher and staff of the Marion County Record, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023 in Marion, Kan. The small newspaper and the police department in Kansas are at the center of a dispute over freedom of speech that is being watched around the country after police raided the office of the local newspaper and the home of its owner and publisher. (Marion County Record via AP)

“Downloading the document involved either impersonating the victim or lying about the reasons why the record was being sought,” Cody claimed.

The raid caused outrage and sparked a debate about press freedoms, as the newspaper’s employees were hindered from doing their job and were forced to work overnight to print the next day’s paper. During the raid, authorities took the newspaper’s computers and a router, plus the personal cellphones of employees. 

With four people on staff, the employees rewrote stories and reproduced ads from scratch. The front-page headline of the next day’s paper read: “SEIZED … but not silenced.” 

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Seized newspaper

A stack of the latest weekly edition of the Marion County Record sits in the back of the newspaper’s building, awaiting unbundling, sorting and distribution, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, in Marion, Kan. The newspaper’s front page was dedicated to two stories about a raid by local police on its offices and the publisher’s home Aug. 11. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

All of the seized items were handed back to the newspaper Wednesday, after Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey determined there was too little evidence to justify the raid.

“As a result, I have submitted a proposed order asking the court to release the evidence seized. I have asked local law enforcement to return the material seized to the owners of the property,” Ensey explained.

Marion County Record Editor and Publisher Eric Meyer maintained that no laws were broken to the Associated Press.

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The Marion County Record headquarters, a two-story brick building with blinds and curtains closed

The offices of the Marion County Record in Marion, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

“You cannot let bullies win,” Meyer previously said. “We have a staff that’s very experienced, including myself, and we’re not going to take crap.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



POST AUTHOR: Andrea Vacchiano

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