The police chief who led a highly criticized raid of a small Kansas newspaper has been suspended, the mayor confirmed to The Associated Press on Saturday.
Marion Mayor Dave Mayfield in a text said he suspended Chief Gideon Cody on Thursday. He declined to discuss his decision further and did not say whether Cody was still being paid.
Voice messages and emails from the AP seeking comment from Cody’s lawyers were not immediately returned Saturday.
The Aug. 11 searches of the Marion County Record’s office and the homes of its publisher and a City Council member have been sharply criticized, putting Marion at the center of a debate over the press protections offered by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Cody’s suspension is a reversal for the mayor, who previously said he would wait for results from a state police investigation before taking action.
Vice-Mayor Ruth Herbel, whose home was also raided Aug. 11, praised Cody’s suspension as “the best thing that can happen to Marion right now” as the central Kansas town of about 1,900 people struggles to move forward under the national spotlight.
“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.
Cody has said little publicly since the raids other than posting a defense of them on the police department’s Facebook page. In court documents he filed to get the search warrants, he argued that he had probable cause to believe the newspaper and Herbel, whose home was also raided, had violated state laws against identity theft or computer crimes.
The raids came after a local restaurant owner accused the newspaper of illegally accessing information about her. A spokesman for the agency that maintains those records has said the newspaper’s online search that a reporter did was likely legal even though the reporter needed personal information about the restaurant owner that a tipster provided to look up her driving record.
The newspaper’s publisher Eric Meyer has said the identity theft allegations simply provided a convenient excuse for the search after his reporters had been digging for background information on Cody, who was appointed this summer.
Legal experts believe the raid on the newspaper violated a federal privacy law or a state law shielding journalists from having to identify sources or turn over unpublished material to law enforcement.
Video of the raid on the home of publisher Eric Meyer shows how distraught his 98-year-old mother became as officers searched through their belongings. Meyer said he believes that stress contributed to the death of his mother, Joan Meyer, a day later.
Another reporter last month filed a federal lawsuit against the police chief over the raid.