Marion County Record saga continues

Joan Meyer, the 98-year-old co-owner of the Marion County Record, was defiant as police Chief Gideon Cody, seen the background, and other officers raided her home. She died the following day. (Police video screen capture from federal court filing via KansasReflector.com)

Nearly a year ago government officials assaulted the First Amendment on the Kansas Plains when they illegally raided the office of the Marion County Record and the homes of its journalists on Aug. 11, 2023.

Arguably, these attacks caused the death of Joan Meyer, the paper’s co-owner and 98-year-old mother of publisher Eric Meyer.

Yet justice still hasn’t been served.

Sure, raid leader Marion Chief of Police Gideon Cody resigned after being suspended by Marion Mayor Dave Mayfield

Also, City Administrator Brogan Jones resigned in the wake of the atrocity and after being confronted at a city council meeting, though he secured the same role with the City of Neodesha in southeast Kansas. 

Additionally, a First Amendment lawsuit has been filed in federal court, possibly seeking more than $10 million in damages, and former Marion councilwoman Ruth Herbel has filed a federal lawsuit of her own.

Marion County Record reporter Phyllis Zorn and office manager Cheri Bentz each filed a lawsuit too.

Still, a conclusion to this saga hasn’t been reached.

After it became clear that corruption ran deep in this case as evidenced by the complicity of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the Kansas Department of Revenue, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and the Office of the State Fire Marshal, along with the county attorney and a magistrate judge, the investigation was handed over to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

On April 2, 2024, the Kansas Reflector reported that the CBI was wrapping up its investigation, and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett joined the case in May 2024 as the special prosecutor along with Riley County Attorney Barry Wilkerson.

Still, no visible progress can be seen.

Max Kautsch, an attorney whose practice focuses on First Amendment rights and open government law, views this lack of movement as an affront to journalistic and good governmental practices.

“The public, along with journalists industry-wide, are left wondering whether law enforcement, or, crucially, even Record staff, will face criminal or administrative consequences for their roles in the events of that fateful day,” he wrote for the Kansas Reflector. “This ongoing ambiguity, stemming from a lack of transparency, leaves an inescapable statewide chilling effect on journalists’ First Amendment rights.”

Kautsch isn’t the only one feeling this way.

“Accountability is desperately needed,” wrote Seth Stern, director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Kansas Reflector opinion editor Clay Wirestone is incensed.

“I’ve had it. I’m angry. You should be angry, too,” he wrote. “At this point, the delays serve only to undermine faith in the Kansas justice system. Perhaps officials want to make themselves appear less culpable in chilling free expression not only in Kansas but across the entire United States. Nevertheless, they have done so, and the stain they left on the state’s democratic fabric won’t come out so easily.”

I couldn’t agree more. 

What transpired in rural Kansas is abhorrent. The government officials involved should be ashamed and held accountable for what they’ve allowed to transpire. After all, they wouldn’t have their jobs if it weren’t for our democracy, and our democracy wouldn’t exist as it does without the First Amendment and the journalism it safeguards.

The First Amendment needs to be protected, even if Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach seems to prefer the Second Amendment since he chose to waste Kansan’s time and money to oppose a law compelling gun sellers to have a federal firearm license.

Kansas, and the country as a whole, needs brave and unwavering journalism to confront the miscreants that aim to harm individuals and communities. Rather than attacking them, we need to support them.

Notably, the Marion County Record received the 2024 William Allen White Foundation National Citation, which is named after the famed Kansas editor William Allen White and recognizes individuals or organizations for outstanding journalistic services.

If only more people and organizations acknowledged this type of important and good work being done in their communities. 

One surefire sign of support would be for the investigators to stop dragging things out and wrap up this inquiry. 

They need to absolve the Marion County Record of all wrongdoing and throw the book at the perpetrators who spat on the Constitution and forever tore the fabric of trust in the Marion community. 

NOTE: Here is a great documentary about the Marion County Record. It was produced by reporters from The Wichita Eaglehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmyZ6oTSWK8&t=1s

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About toddvogts 843 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Journalism Education Association (JEA), and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), among others. He earned his Master Journalism Educator (MJE) certification from JEA in 2022. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at twitter.com/toddvogts or via his website at www.toddvogts.com.