‘Caught in the crossfire’: Third lawsuit filed after police raid on Kansas newspaper

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A third lawsuit has been filed by an employee of the newspaper in Marion, Kansas, which was raided by police in August.

Office manager Cheri Bentz filed the federal lawsuit Friday, claiming she was unlawfully detained and interrogated, and had her cell phone seized.

The Marion County Record’s newsroom was searched on Aug. 11. The town of about 1,900 people is about an hour north of Wichita.

Defendants include the City of Marion, former Police Chief Gideon Cody, former Mayor David Mayfield, Acting Police Chief Zach Hudlin, Sheriff Jeff Soyez and detective Aaron Christner.

The lawsuit said Bentz was preparing the payroll that day when Cody and other officers entered the building. He “made her leave her desk and personal belongings while the police department and Marion County Sheriff’s office staged an unprecedented, retaliatory raid on the Record and its staff.”

Hudlin read Bentz her Miranda rights. She explained to Cody that she was the office manager and not directly involved in reporting.

The newspaper had looked into Cody’s history with the Kansas City Police Department. He left the agency last April while under investigation for allegedly making sexist comments to a female officer. The paper also had a fraught relationship with Mayfield.

“Bentz was caught in the crossfire of this retaliation and was harmed by it,” the lawsuit claimed.

The Marion County Record newspaper offices.
The Marion County Record newspaper offices.

Police executed search warrants that day at The Record, the home of Joan Meyer and her son Eric Meyer, who own the newspaper, and former City Councilwoman Ruth Herbel under the pretense that a reporter illegally obtained information about the DUI conviction of local restaurateur Kari Newell. That information was later confirmed by the Kansas Department of Revenue to be open to the public.

Joan Meyer died the day after the raid.

The warrants were withdrawn the next week because there was “insufficient evidence” that a crime had been committed, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey said at the time.

The raid, which drew international attention, was widely condemned. Cody resigned in October and Hudlin became interim chief. A new mayor was elected in November.

Bentz’s lawsuit alleges the raid was “based on defective search warrants.”

It also alleges that Cody said, “The search warrant covers us recovering everything,” which was false.

He later told Bentz he thought she had “very little involvement,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges Bentz’s First and Fourth Amendments were violated in addition to the Privacy Protection Act, which protects reporters’ materials from seizure.

Interim city administrator Mark McAnarney declined to comment Friday on the lawsuit. Soyez and others did not respond to requests for comment.

Reporters Deb Gruver and Phyllis Zorn have also filed lawsuits.