by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector
October 4, 2023
TOPEKA — Deb Gruver believes she suffered lasting emotional and physical injury when Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody snatched her cell phone out of her hand during the unprecedented raid on the Marion County Record newspaper.
Now, in an answer to Gruver’s federal lawsuit against him, Cody denies most of the allegations against him for his actions before and during the Aug. 11 raid. His defense: he acted reasonably and within constitutional requirements, among other claims.
Cody also argues the county attorney and law enforcement agencies he turned to for legal advice before the raid never told him that the investigation was legally questionable.
“Defendant Cody did not act alone, nor did he orchestrate a complex conspiracy of other law enforcement officers to carry out illegal or malicious plans against Plaintiff Gruver,” reads Cody’s Oct. 4 response to the federal lawsuit.
Gruver filed her lawsuit in late August, marking the first formal legal action over the raid. She is suing Cody in his individual capacity, seeking at least $75,000, the minimum threshold for filing a civil case in federal court, for “emotional distress, mental anguish and physical injury.”
Her lawsuit states that on the day of the raid, Chief Cody took her personal cell phone, though his application for the search warrant did not mention Gruver or the phone as evidence of a crime. The lawsuit alleges Cody violated Gruver’s First Amendment free press rights and Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure during the raid.
Cody initiated the Aug. 11 search under the pretense that reporter Phyllis Zorn committed identity theft by illicitly accessing local restaurateur Kari Newell’s driver’s license history. Newell lost her license following a 2008 drunken driving conviction, and she 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. Cody still denies any allegation that Zorn’s actions were lawful under federal or state law. According to Cody’s response to the lawsuit, he had officer Zach Hudlin call the Kansas Department of Revenue to confirm the record was private. Allegedly, Hudlin was advised that the record in question was not public.
During the raid, Cody, backed up by fellow law enforcement officers, took cell phones and computers, including Gruver’s phone, from the newsroom. Recent reporting from the Record describes officers examining records about Cody during the raid, ignoring the drivers’ license document for which they had purportedly raided the office.
The body camera footage obtained by the paper showed officers rifling through Gruver’s desk during the raid and alerting Cody to the reporter’s files about him. Gruver had previously compiled allegations made against Cody by his former colleagues with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, though the Record hadn’t published a story about them.
According to Record reporting, Cody left Kansas City under the threat of demotion, following accusations of creating a hostile work environment.
During the raid, officers also searched Marion County Record publisher Eric Meyer’s home, along with the residence of a city councilwoman. Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan, the newspaper’s co-owner, died from stress-related causes a day after the raid.
Cody and Gruver have both resigned from their positions over the last few days. Cody’s resignation was announced Monday during a city council meeting. Hudlin has been initiated as the interim police chief. Gruver, who has been a reporter for more than 30 years, had her belongings packed up and removed from the paper Saturday, citing worsened mental health since the raid.
A Wednesday response to Gruver’s lawsuit asserts Cody had worked with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Department of Revenue to develop his applications for the search warrants.
The response alleges that none of the law enforcement agencies nor the prosecutor, County Attorney Joel Ensey, had warned Cody that he didn’t have enough cause to carry out the seizure, or advise him against the raid.
In the days leading up to the raid, Ensey allegedly met with Cody, received and responded to emails asking for legal advice on whether to pursue a criminal investigation and answered multiple inquiries about whether the law of Kansas could support probable cause to believe a crime had been committed. According to Cody’s response, Ensey never advised against the investigation, or mentioned state and federal laws that would prohibit the raid.
Ensey allegedly approved the investigation without reading Cody’s collected documents on the case.
“Despite participating in emails and meetings, Ensey has since advised Chief Cody that he did not actually read the documents that Cody sent to him including the draft search warrant affidavits and search warrants,” the response reads.
Cody said he had been on friendly and professional terms with Gruver in the months before the raid, and had exchanged multiple emails with her about his work history and other matters. His defense claims he had no malice toward her despite her “claimed intent to expose him for purported misconduct.”
Cody also denies that he acted in an “unnecessarily violent fashion” to Gruver during the raid. Gruver had claimed her previously dislocated finger was injured when Cody took her cell phone from her.
What Cody does admit
Cody’s response admits he took her phone, but he says Gruver ignored his warnings not to contact anyone during the search warrant process. When she began to dial Eric Meyer, he took the phone, according to the report.
Gruver had used her “alleged injured finger to hold a cigarette” after the seizure, and refused to complete an injury report on her hand.
“Her own conduct was the sole cause of damages, if any,” his response reads.
Cody said since the raid, he has received countless death threats, threats of violence against his family and “disparaging comments” on local, national and international levels.
Cody admitted he had been disciplined by KCMOPD for several policy violations, including repeatedly calling the cell phone of a suspect in a murder to try to persuade him to surrender, using curse words against a subordinate and for “telling an inappropriate joke.”
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: email@example.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.