Colorado authorities wrapping up investigation into Marion police who raided Kansas newspaper

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TOPEKA — The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is nearly finished with its inquiry into potential criminal activity surrounding the raid on the Marion County Record last year and will turn over findings to special prosecutors later this month, state authorities said Tuesday.

The announcement comes a day after the Marion County Record filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking damages for alleged violations of civil rights.

Melissa Underwood, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett would determine whether to file criminal charges against journalists, law enforcement officers or anyone else.

On Aug. 11, Marion city police and county sheriff personnel raided the newspaper office, the publishers’ residence and a city councilwoman’s home. At the newspaper office, they seized computers and reporters’ personal cellphones and snooped through paper records that revealed confidential sources.

The newspaper’s lawsuit accuses police and local officials of conspiring to silence the newspaper under the pretext that journalists had committed “identity theft” by looking at public records on a public website.

Kansas Reflector in November revealed that KBI agents had been involved in the investigation into journalists before the raid, and knew that police planned to raid the newsroom — an illegal search under federal and state law. Two days after the story appeared, the KBI asked the CBI to take over the investigation into potential criminal activity.

In a statement Tuesday, Underwood said the request was made “in an effort to ensure impartiality and transparency.”

In response to follow-up questions for this story, Underwood said the scope of the CBI investigation includes any criminal violations “by anyone involved.”

Rob Low, a spokesman for the CBI, said there was no formal contract or exchange of money involved in the request.

“KBI asked CBI as a professional courtesy to investigate, so we did,” Low said.

“I know we’re definitely investigating the conduct of local law enforcement in Marion and whether they acted appropriately or not,” he added.

According to the newspaper’s lawsuit, former police Chief Gideon Cody, with the help of a sheriff’s detective, prepared search warrant applications with false information about the journalists and the records they obtained. Magistrate Judge Laura Viar then authorized the search warrants under the false pretense that Cody had appeared before her, the lawsuit says, when he had not.

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The Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct dismissed a complaint filed against Viar for authorizing an unlawful search, but advised her “to take sufficient time to review all documents and research appropriate federal and state laws before issuing a search warrant.” A Topeka woman has filed a new ethics complaint against Viar based on revelations in the lawsuit.

Mayor David Mayfield, a former Kansas Highway Patrol trooper and Marion police chief, had ordered Cody to investigate the newspaper, according to the lawsuit, after making Facebook posts that describe journalists as “the real villains in America.”

The newspaper lawsuit says Cody worked with Sheriff Jeff Soyez to plan and carry out the raid, and that the two made the decision to seize evidence that was outside the scope of the search warrants.

Joan Meyer, the 98-year-old co-owner of the newspaper, died a day after police raided her house, where she lived with her son, publisher and editor Eric Meyer.

“Lawsuits might have been avoided or mitigated if responsible local officials had demonstrated any contrition or if ethics bodies had not brushed aside concerns,” Eric Meyer said. “Many of those who perpetrated storm-trooper style bullying with a needlessly huge contingent of armed officers remain in office or have been promoted. Even newly elected officials have refused to disavow the tactics used — tactics that failed to silence our newspaper but proved fatal to my 98-year-old mother.”

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: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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