The mayor on Saturday confirmed to The Associated Press that the police chief who oversaw a raid on a small Kansas newspaper that was widely criticised had been suspended.
The suspension of Chief Gideon Cody was announced by Marion Mayor Dave Mayfield via text on Thursday. He refused to elaborate on his choice and would not confirm that Cody was still getting paid.
The AP left voicemails and sent emails to Cody’s attorneys on Saturday, but they did not respond right away.
The searches of the Marion County Record’s office, the publisher’s house, and the residence of a member of the city council on August 11 have drawn harsh criticism, placing Marion at the centre of a discussion about the First Amendment’s rights for the free press.
The mayor’s decision to suspend Cody is a turnabout from his earlier statement that he would wait for the outcome of an inquiry by the state police before acting.
Vice-Mayor Ruth Herbel, whose residence was also searched on August 11, welcomed Cody’s suspension as “the best thing that can happen to Marion right now” as the 1,900-person town in central Kansas battles to advance in the face of public scrutiny.
“We can’t duck our heads until it goes away, because it’s not going to go away until we do something about it,” Herbel said.
With the exception of defending the raids on the police department’s Facebook page, Cody hasn’t said anything in public since the raids. He claimed that he had reason to believe that the newspaper and Herbel, whose residence was also seized, had broken state laws against identity theft or computer crimes in court paperwork he filed to get the search warrants.
After a local restaurant owner accused the newspaper of improperly obtaining her information, the raids took place. Although the reporter required identifying details about the restaurant owner that a tipper provided in order to dig up her driving record, a spokesperson for the organisation that manages those records agreed the newspaper’s online search was probably acceptable.
The claims of identity theft, according to the newspaper’s publisher Eric Meyer, were only a handy pretext for the investigation after his reporters had been looking into Cody’s background since he was appointed this summer.
Legal experts think the newspaper raid breached a state or federal privacy provision that exempts journalists from having to disclose their sources or unpublished materials to law authorities.
The 98-year-old mother of publisher Eric Meyer became upset as police went through family possessions, as seen on video of the raid on his home. Meyer stated that he thinks stress played a part in his mother Joan Meyer’s death a day later.
A different journalist sued the police chief in federal court last month over the raid.