The Kansas police chief who led a widely condemned raid on a small-town newspaper resigned earlier this week after body cam footage revealed him rifling through files about himself. But with the newspaper still struggling to operate nearly two months after the raid, the publisher and lawyer say the resignation is too little, too late.
Gideon Cody, the former police chief of Marion, Kansas, led the raid of the Marion County Record newspaper in August in a move that was denounced by news outlets and press freedom groups as a clear violation of the First Amendment.
After being suspended from his position last week by the town’s mayor, Cody resigned Monday evening.
But the resignation isn’t something to praise, the Record’s lawyer, Bernie Rhodes, told VOA, adding that the paper is still planning to take legal action.
“We should not be celebrating this whatsoever. We should be glad that his gun and badge have been taken away from him. But the city did nothing to convince me that they’re taking appropriate action,” Rhodes said. “The city took no action.
“I don’t understand why it took two months for someone to take Chief Cody’s gun and badge. He is clearly unfit for duty. And this should have happened a long time ago,” he said.
The paper’s owner and publisher, Eric Meyer, agreed.
“He should have been suspended immediately,” he said.
Meyer blames the stress of the raid for the death of his mother, Joan, the newspaper’s co-owner, who died of cardiac arrest a day after the raid.
Marion police did not reply to VOA’s email requesting comment. Marion Mayor David Mayfield also did not immediately reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.
The raid’s dramatic fallout has taken a toll on the newspaper’s operations, Meyer told VOA on Thursday.
“I keep saying we’re one head cold away from not being able to publish our newspaper. We’re right on that edge,” he said. “It’s a very big struggle to get the paper out each week.”
Although the Record has gotten thousands of new subscriptions since the raid, the newspaper’s staff are now working a “ridiculous number of hours,” Meyer said, acknowledging that the pace is not sustainable.
The Record has not yet taken any legal action, but a former Record reporter has done so in her personal capacity.
On Wednesday, Cody responded to a lawsuit filed in August against him by Deb Gruver, who said she suffered lasting emotional and physical injury when Cody took her cellphone from her hand during the raid.
Gruver recently resigned from the Record, citing worsening mental health since the raid. She declined to comment about recent developments in the case but spoke to VOA in August about the paranoia she said she has experienced in the incident’s aftermath.
“I don’t feel really that safe anymore here,” she told VOA in the paper’s newsroom. “I don’t feel safe in Marion. I’m not sure I ever did, really, but I certainly don’t now.
“They violated our rights, and I won’t ever be the same,” Gruver said then.
In his response this week, Cody denied most of the allegations concerning his actions related to the raid.
“Defendant Cody did not act alone, nor did he orchestrate a complex conspiracy of other law enforcement officers to carry out illegal or malicious plans against Plaintiff Gruver,” reads Cody’s response to the federal lawsuit.
The raid on the weekly newspaper has come to symbolize the yearslong plight of local news in the United States.
Rhodes, the lawyer, said the Record is waiting until the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, or KBI, completes its inquiry into the incident and releases its report before the paper takes legal action.
Melissa Underwood, KBI’s communications director, told VOA the “case is wrapping up,” but she did not know an exact timeline.
Despite the many all-nighters spent working on the paper since the raid, Meyer said he has somehow managed to maintain an optimistic outlook.
“You can look at Marion, Kansas, as the place where there’s a bunch of corruption going on,” he said. “Or you can look at Marion, Kansas, as the place where there was a bunch of corruption going on, and we caught it, whereas they might not have caught it in other places.”