Log in

A Kansas paper and its publisher are suing over police raids. They say damages exceed $10M


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A weekly central Kansas newspaper and its publisher filed a federal lawsuit Monday over police raids last summer of its offices and the publisher's home, accusing local officials of trying to silence the paper and causing the death of the publisher's 98-year-old mother.

The lawsuit did not include a specific figure for potential damages. However, in a separate notice to local officials, the paper and its publisher said they believe they are due more than $10 million.

The lawsuit from the Marion County Record's parent company and Eric Meyer, its editor and publisher, accuses the city of Marion, the Marion County Commission and five current and former local officials of violating free press rights and the right to be free from unreasonable law enforcement searches guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit also notified the defendants that Meyer and the newspaper plan to add other claims, including that officials wrongly caused the death of Meyer's mother the day after the raids, which the lawsuit attributes to a stress-induced heart attack.

The raids put Marion, a town of about 1,900 people set among rolling prairie hills about 150 miles (241 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City, Missouri, at the center of a national debate over press freedoms. It also highlighted the intense divisions over a newspaper known for its aggressive coverage of local issues and its strong criticism of some officials.

The city's former police chief — who later resigned amid the ongoing furor — justified the Aug. 11 raids by saying he had probable cause to believe the newspaper and a reporter potentially committed identity theft and other computer crimes in obtaining and verifying information about a local business owner's driving record. The lawsuit claims the paper and its reporters did nothing illegal, the search warrants were improper and officials had longstanding grudges against the newspaper.

“The last thing we want to do is bankrupt the city or county, but we have a duty to democracy and to countless news organizations and citizens nationwide to challenge such malicious and wanton violations,” Meyer said in a statement.

The city of Marion's budget for 2023 was about $8.7 million, while the county's budget was about $35 million.

Besides the city, defendants in the lawsuit include former Marion Mayor David Mayfield, who retired from office in January; former Police Chief Gideon Cody, who stepped down in October; and current Acting Police Chief Zach Hudlin, who as an officer participated in the raids. Marion County Sheriff Jeff Soyez, the county commission and a former deputy who helped draft the search warrants used in the raids are the other defendants named.

The newspaper had investigated Cody's background before the city hired him last year. The lawsuit alleges Soyez regularly said that he did not approve of Meyer’s “negative attitude.”

The newspaper's attorney, Bernie Rhodes, noted that when police raided the home that Meyer and his mother shared, she told the former police chief, “Boy, are you going to be in trouble.”

“My job is to make sure Joan's promise is kept,” Rhodes said in his own statement.

Jennifer Hill, an attorney representing the city and former and current city officials, declined to comment. Jeffrey Kuhlman, an attorney representing the county commission, the sheriff and his former deputy, said he couldn't comment because he hasn't had time to review the lawsuit.

The lawsuit from Meyer and the newspaper was the fourth filed in federal court in Kansas over the police raids, which also involved sheriff's deputies and even an officer from the state fire marshal's office. Deb Gruver, now a former reporter, filed the first lawsuit less than three weeks after the raids, and a trial is set for September 2025.

Current Record reporter Phyllis Zorn filed the second lawsuit in February, and the defendants want it dismissed. The third was filed last week by Cheri Bentz, the newspaper's office manager.

The latest lawsuit says it was filed to seek justice over “intolerable” violations of constitutional rights and "to deter the next crazed cop from threatening democracy.”

While federal civil rights laws allowed Meyer and the newspaper to sue immediately, Kansas law requires parties intending to sue local governments to give them 120 days' notice so that officials can pay the claim first. In a 10-page notice, Rhodes said Meyer is due reimbursement for his mother's funeral expenses; the newspaper, for harm to its accounting system; and both, for their legal expenses.

The notice also says that Meyer and his mother suffered “extreme and severe distress" and that their estate is entitled to $4 million in damages for that. It also argues that the newspaper deserves $2 million for its damages and punitive damages should exceed $4 million.

“Many of those who perpetrated storm-trooper style bullying with a needlessly huge contingent of armed officers remain in office or have been promoted,” Meyer said in his statement. “Even newly elected officials have refused to disavow the tactics used.”