A Marion County Record reporter involved in the raid on the Kansas newspaper’s office has filed a federal lawsuit against the police department and its chief, alleging that the controversial incident caused her emotional distress and a physical injury.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, veteran journalist Debbie Gruver alleges that the Marion Police Department and Chief Gideon Cody violated her first and fourth amendment rights during the “ shocking” and “unprecedented” Aug. 11 raid in connection with an identity theft investigation.
The lawsuit alleges that during the raid, Gruver reached for her cell phone to contact newspaper publisher Eric Meyer after Cody handed her a copy of the search warrant, and he responded by “reaching out the papers and snatching the phone out of her hand.”
Though the lawsuit does not directly state the nature of the injuries sustained, it says, that “as a direct and proximate result of defendant Cody’s conduct violating Ms. Gruver’s constitutional rights, plaintiff Gruver has sustained damages, including, but not limited to, emotional distress, mental anguish and physical injury.” It is now demanding a jury trial, $75,000 in compensatory damages, and $75,000 in punitive damages for the incident that spurred international outrage over journalistic freedom.
“Although I brought this suit in my own name, I’m standing up for journalists across the country,” Gruver said in a statement. “It is our constitutional right to do this job without fear of harassment or retribution, and our constitutional rights are always worth fighting for.”
Cody did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The office raid was one of three that occurred that day, along with a hit at the home of publisher Eric Meyer and his 98-year-old mother, who died a day later following “sudden cardiac arrest,” according to the court document. The home of Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel was the third target. The search warrant affidavits, which do not name Gruver, confirm that the raids stemmed from complaints from local restaurateur Kari Newell that a confidential source leaked sensitive documents to one of the Record reporters.
During the raid, however, Gruver’s computer tower was removed from the office. The lawsuit alleges that Cody was aware of Gruver’s ongoing investigation into his career background, including allegations that he engaged in misconduct at his previous police post.
But, the lawsuit states, when Gruver went to the police department to get her phone back the day of the raid, Cody admitted that he did not believe she had anything to do with the alleged identity theft.
“I actually believe you,” Cody allegedly told Gruver, according to the lawsuit.
Amid national outcry over the raids, Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey withdrew the search warrant that led to the raids after concluding that “insufficient evidence exists to establish a legally sufficient nexus between the alleged crime and the places searched and the items seized.” The items have since been returned to the newspaper, though not before a lawyer for the newspaper alleged the sheriff’s office copied 17 gigabytes of data and failed to turn it over and destroy it.
The newspaper’s attorney, Bernie Rhodes, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that he witnessed authorities destroy the drive that contained the newspaper’s computer data today and that he had a copy of the data to see what authorities had copied.
The lawyer, who did not file the lawsuit on Gruver’s behalf, told The Daily Beast that he is elated that Gruver decided to sue. He added that the newspaper still has more evidence to look through before deciding whether to pursue legal action.
“We are glad this is the first step in what we hope is many, many steps to hold the police responsible for what happened,” Rhodes said.