Marion police chief resigns after body cam footage shows him rifling through records about himself

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Record reporter departs, citing anxiety, lack of comfort in community

TOPEKA — Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody has resigned, less than two months after he instigated a widely covered raid on a local newspaper that culminated in a federal lawsuit and one woman’s death. 

Marion Mayor David Mayfield announced Cody’s departure during a Monday city council meeting, following the previous week’s announcement that Cody was suspended. Mayfield said the resignation was “effective immediately,” according to Marion County Record reporting

Zach Hudlin, an officer who was present during the raid, has been appointed as Marion’s acting police chief by Mayfield’s suggestion. Hudlin was involved in the raid of the Marion County Record and seized items from the newspaper. He is the only remaining Marion police force member fully certified as a law enforcement officer, the Record reported.   

Cody’s resignation is one of several developments in the unprecedented rural newspaper raid. Cody initiated the Aug. 11 search under the pretense that reporter Phyllis Zorn committed identity theft when she accessed public records on a public website.

In an affidavit, Cody wrote that Zorn had illicitly accessed local restaurateur Kari Newell’s driver’s license history. Newell lost her license following a 2008 drunken driving conviction, but had been accused of driving without a license for years. A confidential source gave the reporter Newell’s driver’s license record, and Zorn verified the information through a Kansas Department of Revenue database — a legal way for reporters to access information.

Magistrate Judge Laura Viar signed off on the search warrant.

During the raid, Cody, along with four police officers and two sheriff’s deputies, took cell phones and other electronic devices from the newsroom. According to details from a federal lawsuit filed by Deb Gruver, a veteran Record reporter, law enforcement read reporters their Miranda warnings, then left them to wait outside in 100-degree heat for three hours. 

Officers also searched Marion County Record publisher Eric Meyer’s home, along with the residence of a county councilwoman. Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan, the newspaper’s co-owner, died a day after the raid.  

Meyer believed the stress of the raid contributed to his mother’s death. Newsroom equipment was returned five days after the raid, after the county attorney determined there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support the search warrants.

Body camera footage 

Gruver — who is suing Cody individually for “emotional distress, mental anguish and physical injury” — had previously questioned him about alleged misconduct. 

Recent reporting from the Record describes officers searching records about Cody during the raid, ignoring the drivers’ license document for which they had purportedly raided the office. The Record also reported Cody had been in contact with Newell during the raid, telling her he had information he wanted to share. 

Other portions of the body camera footage obtained by the paper showed Hudlin rummaging through Gruver’s desk during the raid and alerting Cody to the reporter’s files about him. 

“You want to look through this desk?” Hudlin asks Cody in the Record’s account of the incident. 

Cody’s reply, after reading the files: “Keeping a personal file on me. I don’t care.” 

Marion County Record reporter Phyllis Zorn and Sheriff Jeff Soyez stand outside the evidence room where an undersheriff signs over newspaper property to a forensic expert.
 Marion County Record reporter Phyllis Zorn and Sheriff Jeff Soyez stand outside the evidence room where an undersheriff signs over newspaper property to a forensic expert. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Though the Record hadn’t published the information, Gruver had compiled allegations made against Cody by his former colleagues with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. According to Record reporting, Cody left Kansas City under the threat of demotion, following accusations of creating a hostile work environment. 

Before he was sworn in as Marion’s police chief, Cody denied he was facing demotion and threatened Gruver with a lawsuit if she reported anything about his Kansas City history, the Record said. At the time, the newspaper provided a summary of the allegations against Cody to city council member Zach Collett, who allegedly asked the newspaper why they were “digging into this.”

The last Facebook post from the Marion Police Department, left Aug. 12, maintains the officers’ belief in ensuring “safety and security.” 

“The Marion Kansas Police Department believes it is the fundamental duty of the police to ensure the safety, security, and well-being of all members of the public,” the comment read. “This commitment must remain steadfast and unbiased, unaffected by political or media influences, in order to uphold the principles of justice, equal protection, and the rule of law for everyone in the community.”

Newsroom fallout

In the weeks since the raid, Record reporters have expressed anxiety and concern. Meyer buried his mother. Zorn has faced worsening health, with her seizure disorder exacerbated by stress. 

Gruver has announced her resignation from the newspaper, saying she no longer felt comfortable in the Marion community, the Record reported.

“I’ve been having — whether anyone understands it or not — a lot of anxiety about being in Marion. …” Gruver wrote in a resignation letter to the Record. “I feel bad about this, but I need to do what’s best for my mental health, which isn’t the greatest at the moment.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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