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KBI now lead on investigation that led to go looking of newspaper

KBI now lead on investigation that led to go looking of newspaper

2023-08-21 10:25:30

Front pages hang on a wall at the Marion County Record, where police served a search warrant Friday.

Entrance pages cling on a wall on the Marion County File, the place police served a search warrant Friday.

Luke Nozicka – The Kansas Metropolis Star

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Kansas newspaper controversy

A police raid Friday on an area newspaper in Marion, Kansas, sparked First Modification issues throughout the nation.

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The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is now leading the criminal investigation that led to a raid of a newspaper in Marion, after the local police chief came under intense criticism for conducting the search.

The KBI, which confirmed the change to The Star, said it was the “lead law enforcement agency” as of Monday morning after Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody and his officers on Friday searched the Marion County Record, the home of the publisher and owner, as well as the home of a city councilwoman.

“As we transition, we will review prior steps taken and work to determine how best to proceed with the case. Once our thorough investigation concludes, we will forward all investigative facts to the prosecutor for review,” KBI spokesperson Melissa Underwood said in a statement.

It’s unclear what precipitated the KBI taking over leadership of the investigation. Underwood offered no additional details. Cody didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the move comes as Cody, who left a 24-year career in the Kansas City Police Department to become Marion’s chief earlier this year, faces blowback from the Record and press freedom advocates. Underwood’s statement, taken at face value, appears to indicate the KBI’s review will include the decision to search the newspaper.

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The Kansas Metropolis Star

Bernie Rhodes, an attorney for the Record who also represents The Star, sent a letter to Cody on Sunday calling the searches illegal and demanding that Marion police not review any information seized before a hearing could be held under Kansas’ journalist shield law.

Rhodes then forwarded the same letter to KBI Director Tony Mattivi on Monday afternoon. The KBI said in a statement the day before that Mattivi believed the freedom of the press “is a vanguard of American democracy” and that members of the media are not “above the law.”

A search warrant shows police were looking for evidence that a reporter had run an improper computer search to confirm an report that a local business owner applying for a liquor license had lost her driver’s license over a DUI.

“The KBI is entrusted to investigate credible allegations of illegal activity without fear or favor,” the agency said. “In order to investigate and gather facts, the KBI commonly executes search warrants on police departments, sheriff’s offices, and at city, county and state offices. … No one is above the law, whether a public official or a representative of the media.”

The KBI said it was asked by Marion police and Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey to join an investigation into accusations of “illegal access and dissemination of confidential criminal justice information.” Ensey will decide whether to file criminal charges after the KBI forwards the findings of its investigation.

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The KBI had already been involved in the investigation in Marion prior to Monday, with the agency assigning an agent to the case earlier this month. The KBI statement noted that the agent did not apply for the search warrants and was not present when they were executed.

The search came after the Record investigated Cody’s background, but decided against publishing a story, newspaper owner and publisher Eric Meyer has said.

Video from inside the newspaper’s office showed officers taking photographs of the space and seizing computers Friday. Meyer has described the seizures, which also unfolded at his home, as “Gestapo tactics.”

The next day, Meyer’s mother Joan Meyer, who was also the newspaper’s co-owner, died at age 98. The stress from the “illegal raids,” the Record reported, contributed to her death.

Star reporter Luke Nozicka contributed reporting

This story was initially printed August 14, 2023, 8:13 PM.

Associated tales from Kansas Metropolis Star

Jonathan Shorman is The Kansas Metropolis Star’s lead political reporter, overlaying Kansas and Missouri politics and authorities. He beforehand lined the Kansas Statehouse for The Star and Wichita Eagle. He holds a journalism diploma from The College of Kansas.

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