Former Kansas city councilor files federal lawsuit over ‘conspiracy’ to silence her and newspaper • Missouri Independent

TOPEKA, Kan. — Former Marion City Councilwoman Ruth Herbel alleges in federal court that city officials orchestrated an illegal search of her home – in conjunction with the search of the Marion County Record – as part of a plot to silence the critics.

The Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based law firm that claims to represent “ordinary people” in opposition to abuses of government power, filed a lawsuit on Herbel’s behalf against former Mayor David Mayfield, the former Police Chief Gideon Cody, Sheriff Jeff Be and others. local authorities.

“Ruth ran for Marion City Council at the age of 76 because she was fed up with the dishonesty and lack of transparency in her local government,” the Institute for Justice states in the lawsuit. “However, she soon realized that the men who held power in Marion were resistant to change and public scrutiny. »

Herbel’s lawsuit is the fifth to be filed in response to the August 11, 2023 searches by city and county law enforcement at the newspaper’s offices, the publisher’s home and the home of Herbel. Recent court filings show the cases could eventually be consolidated.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation reviews the actions of law enforcement, local officials and journalists before forwarding the findings to special prosecutors who will decide whether to file criminal charges.

Herbel’s lawsuit alleges violations of constitutional rights to free speech and protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The account is consistent with a complaint filed April 1 by Marion County Record editor and publisher Eric Meyer, whose mother, Joan, a co-editor of the paper, died of stress-induced heart failure a day after police searched his home.

Copies of the Aug. 16 edition of the Marion County Record sit on a counter in the newspaper’s office. Employees spent a sleepless night getting the newspaper out after their equipment was seized by law enforcement. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The lawsuits accuse Mayfield of seeking revenge for criticism of his actions.

As mayor, he once called Herbel a “bitch” during a city council executive session, his lawsuit claims. Mayfield asked the city attorney to send him a letter warning that it would be illegal to speak about city business without full council approval. He threatened to reprimand her at a public meeting.

The lawsuit recalls Mayfield’s failed attempt to collect signatures for a recall election against Herbel, as well as a “far-fetched plan” to convince her that she could be fired as an “at-will” employee, even though she was a duly elected municipal councilor.

In a July 25, 2023, social media post, Mayfield said it was not black people, Asian people, Latino people, women or “gays” but rather journalists who were “the real bad guys in America “.

A local restaurateur who applied to the council for a liquor license became the unwitting catalyst for the raids when a resident pointed out she was driving with a suspended license, apparently aware of local law enforcement, after a conviction for drunk driving. The resident distributed a copy of a letter from a government agency describing the situation.

“Mayor Mayfield and his allies hatched a plan to use the letter as a pretext to punish Ruth and the Record,” according to Herbel’s lawsuit. “The theory they put forward was that because the letter listed the restaurant owner’s driver’s license number, simply possessing the letter was illegal and that someone had ‘obviously’ stolen the restaurant owner’s identity to get the letter.”

But instead of a “real investigation,” the lawsuit says, the mayor worked with the police chief and sheriff “to maliciously obtain baseless warrants” that were “based on lies and omissions.” .

“No one even swore that the allegations were true,” according to the lawsuit.

Cody, the police chief, did not sign the sworn affidavits as required by federal and state law, and his unsworn signatures on the four affidavits appear to vary.

Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody’s signature appears to vary from one search warrant application to the next. (Documents from the Federal Court)

The lawsuit accuses local officials of “judge shopping” to find someone who would sign the arrest warrants. Instead of taking them before the county district judge, they sent them to Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, who also had a history of drunken driving. Viar falsely claimed the requests were “made under oath before me” when she signed them — an action that is now the subject of a complaint before the state Judicial Ethics Committee.

The warrant did not mention that Herbel received the letter from an informant, that it was publicly available on Facebook, that the information included in the letter was in the public domain, that she shared the letter as a public official before a city council vote, or that police knowingly allowed someone to drive with a suspended license.

“To make matters worse, the arrest warrants were also absurdly overbroad,” the lawsuit claims. “But it hardly mattered, because the police simply confiscated all the phones and computers, without bothering to limit their searches to the terms of the overly broad arrest warrants they had drawn up. After all, arrest warrants were just a way to punish their critics.”

The search of Herbel’s home traumatized her husband, Ronald, who suffers from dementia. The police knowingly left the couple without a phone to contact their children or their doctors. He stayed on the couch for hours after the police left and wouldn’t eat. The experience intensified his depression and anxiety. He could neither eat nor sleep in the days following the raid. He was pacing around the house and crying.

The lawsuit argues that it “should have been obvious” that there was no reason to search Herbel’s home. His alleged crimes were identity theft and official misconduct, which involve using confidential information to intentionally harm someone.

“Simply obtaining a copy of a KDOR recording on social media is not a crime,” his lawyers say in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says media attention to the raids spared Herbel from arrest. Cody sent an email to County Attorney Joel Ensey with the subject line: “Crimes? » The email outlined five possible ways to charge Herbel with a crime. As the lawsuit says, the descriptions of alleged crimes “betray Chief Cody’s willful and malicious misunderstanding or disregard of the law.”

“The plot began with the stated goal of silencing Ruth Herbel and Eric Meyer, and the conspirators worked backwards from there to find the closest thing to a crime that would allow them to achieve that goal ” the lawsuit claims.

This article originally appeared in the Kansas Reflector, an affiliate of States Newsroom.