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Second Marion County Record newspaper reporter files federal lawsuit over controversial 2023 raid

By Joe Sutton, CNN

(CNN) — A reporter at a small Kansas newspaper filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, alleging her constitutional rights were violated during the widely condemned raid of the Marion County Record last August.

Phyllis Zorn is suing current and former officials with the city of Marion and officials with the county of Marion for damages in the amount of $950,000 and attorney’s fees, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of being “co-conspirators in an unconstitutional effort to deny Ms. Zorn her rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution” due to the actions of the raid.

CNN has reached out to the attorney for the city of Marion and the attorney for the county of Marion for a comment on the lawsuit.

In August 2023, CNN reported law enforcement searched the office of the Marion County Record, as well as the home of the paper’s publisher and a county councilwoman, seizing reporters’ cell phones and computers, among other items. The move drew widespread criticism from news organizations and press freedom advocates.

The paper’s publisher, Eric Meyer, has said he believes the raid in Marion – a city about 60 miles north of Wichita – was prompted by a story about a local restaurant owner. But authorities said they were investigating what they called “identity theft” in a search warrant.

“The plaintif (sic) has sustained damages as a result of the defendants’ conduct. Within days after the raid, Ms. Zorn began to suffer from Tonic Clonic seizures (commonly known as Grand Mal seizures),” the lawsuit said. “Prior to the raid, her seizures were under good medical control and she had gone as long as five years without a seizure. The seizures have been debilitating and have led to extreme depression and anxiety.”

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Kansas City.

Marion Police Department Chief Gideon Cody, who who ordered the raid, resigned in October.

Another reporter is also suing

Marion County Record reporter Debbie Gruver filed a federal lawsuit against Cody in September, accusing the chief of violating her constitutional rights by obtaining an “unreasonable and unlawful” search warrant and seizing her personal property, according to the complaint.

Gruver accuses Cody in the suit of targeting her because he knew she had been investigating allegations of misconduct against the chief during his time working for the Kansas City Police Department, although the newspaper has not published those allegations.

Cody did not respond to requests for comment from CNN. In September, Cody’s attorneys filed a response to the lawsuit.

“Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity which bars Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims. He acted at all times reasonably and in accord with constitutional requirements,” the court document says.

Shortly after the raid gained national attention, the police chief posted on Facebook, “As much as I would like to give everyone details on a criminal investigation I cannot. I believe when the rest of the story is available to the public, the judicial system that is being questioned will be vindicated.”

The department has declined further comment on the search, referring questions to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which is conducting its own inquiry.

CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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