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  • Last modified 17 days ago (Sept. 6, 2023)

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Mayor can’t understand what police did wrong

Worried that “everybody’s looking at Marion like we’re a bunch of hicks now,” Mayor David Mayfield is attempting to deflect blame for an illegal raid Aug. 11 on the Marion County Record and two residences and defend his appointee, Police Chief Gideon Cody.

In an interview published Saturday in the Wichita Eagle, Mayfield admits, as he previously told the Record, being consulted in advance of the raid but says Cody, whom he appointed two months earlier, shouldn’t be held responsible.

“The police department just did what the judge allowed them to do,” Mayfield said.

Defending Cody and six other law enforcement officers who raided the newspaper, the home of co-owners Joan and Eric Meyer, and the home of political rival Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel, Mayfield said he was “not sure exactly what they [the police] did wrong.”

At the same time, he admitted never having served a search warrant in his previous career as a police chief and highway patrolman. He now works part-time as a prisoner transfer officer. His term as mayor will expire in January. He is not a candidate for re-election.

Although it is within his power to suspend Cody, he repeated his previous statement to the Record that he would not do so, at least until after Kansas Bureau of Investigation reports on an inquiry it is conducting.

As the Record previously reported, that investigation, focused on whether a separate system exclusively for law enforcement officers was accessed, included interviews more than a week ago with sources who supplied documents to people targeted in the raid.

The sources, though identified in search warrant affidavits, were not interviewed by any law enforcement officers before the searches.

Nor were any of those targeted by the search. They also have not been interviewed by law enforcement officers since the raid.

Marion City Council has not voted to impose a gag order on the topic, but agendas for all city council meetings since the raid have included notices, apparently on orders of Mayfield or City Administrator Brogan Jones, that the council would not discuss the matter at its meetings.

The searches of the newspaper and the homes of two of Mayfield’s most frequent critics have been condemned not only by journalists but also by veteran law enforcement officers worldwide.

As he did in a previous interview with the Record, Mayfield seems to cast all of the blame on County Attorney Joel Ensey, whose brother and sister-in-law have a stake in a restaurant involved in the matter, and on District Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, who may have concealed past drunken driving arrests.

Kari Newell, the restaurant owner involved in the case, has admitted driving illegally for 15 years after failing to complete steps required to get her license back after a drunken driving conviction.

Her estranged husband and a former friend admit to having supplied Herbel and the newspaper copies of documents indicating that fact.

As the Record has reported, Newell was contacted by Cody and told she was a victim of identity theft and improper computer access, even though all documents involved were obtained legally from a public website and even though both Herbel and the newspaper had previously reported to authorities that they had received them.

Mayfield told the Eagle that if there had been something wrong with warrants that led to the searches, the county attorney or judge should have rejected them.

He contended that Ensey played an active role in seeking the warrants, reviewed the warrant applications, and had someone from his office deliver them to Viar for approval.

“I double-checked with Chief Cody, and he assured me that it went to the county attorney and the county attorney skimmed over it and then had his secretary take it to the judge,” Mayfield wrote in an email to The Eagle. “Chief Cody even has emails keeping the county attorney informed about this investigation beginning on August 8th.”

Unexplained is why none of the warrant applications were on file with the District Court until three days after the raid and why the applications, which require that signature of the person making the application to be notarized at the time of signature, were notarized by the judge herself.

The Record is in possession of a signed statement from District Court indicating that no search warrant applications were on file with the court the day of the raid.

The applications themselves, stamped as being filed three days later, indicate that Viar notarized the applications and approved the warrants two hours before the raid.

In a statement released Aug. 16 by KBI, Ensey contended that he did not “carefully review” the documents until two days after the raid and immediately decided there was not probable cause to conduct searches.

Ensey’s statement did not explain why it took two additional days, until after KBI contacted him, for him to announce his decision and request that the warrants be withdrawn and all seized material returned.

“Why didn’t he do that in the first place?” Mayfield asked in the Eagle story. “My police department serves a valid search warrant signed by a judge. I mean, they assume it’s valid because it was approved, so I’m not sure exactly what they did wrong.

“Days later, he comes out and says, ‘Well, I reviewed the affidavit, and there’s not probable cause for a search warrant to be issued.’ Well, if he had done that in the first place, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about it.”

According to standards adopted by the American Bar Association, prosecutors involved in criminal investigations are supposed to review search warrant applications before they go to a judicial officer.

However, Ensey said in an email to the Eagle: “I do not write or approve search warrants. . . . Mr. Mayfield has not spoken with anyone at the county attorney’s office.”

The Aug. 11 searches, personally presided over by Cody, involved nearly all police officers and sheriff’s deputies on duty at the time.

An extra part-time officer was brought specifically to help conduct the simultaneous raids, which Cody had in anticipation bragged to others in law enforcement would be the largest in city history.

The raids have drawn international condemnation as an assault on freedom of the press and a violation of federal law.

Heartbroken and distraught over the raids, Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, who otherwise was in reasonably good health, died of sudden cardiac arrest a day after officers stood on guard in her house for hours before rifling through her belongings and seizing devices in what she decried as “Hitler tactics.”

Throughout Mayfield’s tenure as mayor, both the Record and Herbel have been frequent targets of impassioned condemnations from him.

In January, after Herbel led a successful campaign to reverse a charter ordinance that could have eliminated the public’s right to vote on city borrowing, Mayfield was centrally involved in an unsuccessful campaign to have her removed from office.

He denies, however, that his dislike for the Record, Meyer, and Herbel were in any way the reason why they, and not the actual sources of the documents, were targeted in the raids.

“My involvement in this whole thing is zero, and I’m getting death threats from supporters of the Marion County Record,” Mayfield said. “I don’t know nothing about it. I really don’t.

“And I’ll tell you that the only thing I know about the situation that’s happened here — which is sad — is the fact that the chief informed me that one of my council members was being investigated, and I told him then I don’t want to know nothing about it. That’s a criminal investigation. There’s no reason for me to know anything.”

The Record has publicly condemned threats made to Mayfield, Cody, and other officials.

According to one of the search affidavits, City Administrator Jones wrote Mayfield on Aug. 4 that the police chief and police department would not be pursuing the matter. That apparently changed after a meeting later that day between Mayfield and Cody.

After being approached by Cody about the newspaper and Herbel receiving a copy of a letter about her drunken driving record, restaurant owner Newell went to a city council meeting Aug. 7 and falsely accused the newspaper of illegally obtaining the information and giving it to Herbel and falsely accused Herbel of disseminating it over social media.

In conversation after the meeting, Newell admitted that she actually suspected former friend Pam Maag, the true source of the document, had supplied it to both the Record and Herbel. Herbel had forwarded it only to Jones and only because of concerns about Newell seeking a liquor license.

The Record did verify the information by checking the same publicly available state website Maag had claimed to use to obtain it, but it did so with the help of the agency running the site and only to verify the information.

In a letter Aug. 4, Meyer informed both Cody and Sheriff Jeff Soyez that the newspaper would not publish a story because the matter appeared to be mere squabbling in a divorce case but remained concerned whether law enforcement connections might have been used to obtain the document and about allegations — later verified by anonymous sources — that police might be ignoring Newell’s illegal driving.

“We have no desire to invade the privacy of any individual, especially if this is merely squabbling during a divorce,” Meyer wrote. “I am not comfortable sharing additional information unless you inform me that you have cause to believe some crime or misbehavior might have occurred and additional information we might be able to provide could assist in any investigation.”

Neither Cody nor Soyez responded to Meyer’s letter. Cody’s raid, with officers from Soyez’s department backing up officers from Cody’s, came one week later.

Cody, for his part, was aware at the time of the raid that the Record had been digging into his background at the Kansas City Police Department, where he left as a captain facing demotion after a litany of complaints.

Record reporter Deb Gruver was handling that investigation. She was not at work at the time the letter about Newell was investigated and was not named in the warrant.

However, police seized her work computer and violently seized her cell phone during the raid, reinjuring one of her fingers. She has filed a federal lawsuit against Cody, alleging he was retaliating against her for digging into his background.

Newell’s liquor license would directly benefit Ensey’s brother and sister-in-law, who own the Historic Elgin Hotel and recently sold the restaurant inside it to Newell, a former employee. The Enseys reportedly retain a percentage of its revenue.

Joel Ensey would not answer the Eagle’s questions about his family’s financial ties to Newell.

The liquor license Newell sought would have been for off-premises catering.

Half a year after the restaurant’s sale, its non-transferrable license to serve alcohol still was in the name of Joel Ensey’s sister-in-law, Tammy. However, it expired last week and has not yet been renewed.

Viar, who technically serves Morris County not Marion County, will not face a retention election until next year.

However, multiple complaints about her have been filed with a state judicial commission, which plans to investigate later this month.

Last modified Sept. 6, 2023

 

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