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Former Kansas reporter accepts $235K settlement in lawsuit over police raid of local newspaper

A former reporter for a Kansas newspaper has accepted $235,000 to settle part of her federal lawsuit over a police raid on the local newspaper that made national headlines for concerns about press freedom violations.

Former Marion County Record reporter Deb Gruver reached the settlement on June 25 following her lawsuit against former Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, who is accused of reinjuring Gruver’s previously injured hand when he allegedly grabbed her personal phone during an Aug. 11, 2023, raid on the newspaper.

The settlement removed Cody from the lawsuit, but the Marion County sheriff and the county’s prosecutor – who were also sued by Gruver over the raid – were not covered by the settlement, according to The Associated Press.

Gruver’s lawsuit is one of five federal suits filed over the raid against the city, county and eight current or former elected officials or law enforcement officers.

KANSAS POLICE RAID NEWSPAPER’S OFFICE, PUBLISHER’S HOME TO SEIZE RECORDS; REPORTER INJURED

Cody led the raid on the newspaper’s office, the home of publisher Eric Meyer and the home of a then-city council member after a source contacted the newspaper and the then-city council member with information about a restaurant owner who was trying to obtain a liquor license.

The source said Kari Newell had been convicted of drunk driving and was driving without a valid driver’s license, and that law enforcement was allegedly ignoring Newell’s repeated violations.

Meyer decided not to publish the story and instead told Cody and Marion County Sheriff Jeff Soyez about the information offered by the source. Law enforcement then launched an investigation and obtained a search warrant for evidence of identity theft and criminal use of a computer and alerted Newell.

Computers, cellphones and reporting materials were then seized over alleged violations related to identity theft and unlawful acts concerning computers after a search warrant was signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar. Law enforcement was also given authorization to search for devices used to access the Kansas Department of Revenue’s records website, as well as documents and records pertaining to Newell.

KANSAS REPORTER SUES TOWN, LOCAL OFFICIALS OVER POLICE RAID OF NEWSPAPER OFFICE

The federal Privacy Protection Act prohibits law enforcement from most searches of journalists and newsrooms and usually requires police to issue subpoenas rather than search warrants. The police department said at the time that the law does not apply to instances when journalists are suspected of criminal wrongdoing.

At the time, Cody said he had evidence that the newspaper, reporter Phyllis Zorn and the then-city council member had committed identity theft or other computer crimes through obtaining information about Newell. The three denied doing anything illegal and charges were never filed.

Zorn is seeking $950,000 in damages in her federal lawsuit for being deprived of press and speech freedoms and the protection from unreasonable police searches guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Seized newspaper

During the search of the newspaper office and Meyer’s home, officers removed two computers and an Alexa smart speaker used by Meyer’s 98-year-old mother and newspaper co-owner. She collapsed and died in her home the day after the raid despite otherwise being in good health for her age, her son said at the time.

Meyer and the newspaper filed a federal lawsuit alleging the raid caused his mother’s death. The lawsuit also suggested the raid was carried out in response to an investigation into Cody’s background.

Cody seized Gruber’s personal phone and had her desk searched. While she was not involved in obtaining the driving record, she was investigating Cody’s past.

The raid led to national outrage over press freedom concerns. Cody resigned as police chief less than two months after the raid.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read the full article here

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