One of the reporters who works at the small Kansas newspaper that was raided by authorities earlier this month filed a federal lawsuit against the police chief Wednesday.
Deb Gruver believes Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody violated her constitutional rights when he abruptly snatched her personal cellphone out of her hands during a search where officers also seized computers from the Marion County Record’s office, according to the lawsuit. That Aug. 11 search and two others conducted at the homes of the newspaper’s publisher and a City Council member have thrust the town into the center of a debate over the press protections in the First Amendment.
Cody didn’t immediately respond to an email or text message from The Associated Press on Wednesday seeking comment. He has said little publicly since the raids other than posting a defense of them on the police department’s Facebook page. In court documents he filed to get the search warrants, he argued that he had probable cause to believe the newspaper and City Council member Ruth Herbel, whose home was also raided, had violated state laws against identity theft or computer crimes.
But the newspaper’s publisher, Eric Meyer, has said he believes the identity theft allegations provided a convenient excuse for the search, and the police chief was really upset about Gruver’s investigation into his background with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department before he was hired in Marion earlier this year. Meyer has said he plans to file his own lawsuit.
The Record is known for its aggressive coverage of local politics and its community of 1,900 people about 150 miles (161 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City, Missouri.
Gruver — a veteran reporter with more than three decades of experience — said in a statement that by filing her lawsuit “I’m standing up for journalists across the country.” She has previously worked at other newspapers in Kansas, Wyoming and Indiana and has won awards for her reporting.
“It is our constitutional right to do this job without fear of harassment or retribution, and our constitutional rights are always worth fighting for,” said Gruver, who had the words “Freedom of the press” tattooed on her right forearm the same day her lawsuit was filed.
The city administrator directed questions about the lawsuit to its attorney, Brian Bina, and outside council, Jennifer Hill. Neither attorney immediately returned phone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.