At very least, Marion police raid on newspaper and official’s home was elder abuse | Opinion (2024)

It’s like another day, another federal lawsuit against the city of Marion and its officials over their spectacularly ill-advised raid on the Marion County Record newspaper last August.

The latest suit — the fifth and final one expected in the case — comes from Ruth Herbel, the former vice mayor who was targeted for standing up to Marion’s good-old-boy network and sharing information with the public about various municipal shenanigans that culminated in the raid.

Most coverage to now, including my own, has focused more on the heavy-handed tactics directed against the newspaper and its owners — using the color of authority to essentially steal their computers, phones and confidential records.

That, and the fact that Joan Meyer, the 98-year-old co-owner of the paper, complained of stress after police invaded her home and died the day after the raid that she called (accurately) “Hitler tactics.”

At the time, the newspaper was investigating Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody on confidential tips that he’d been pushed out of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department on sexual misconduct allegations.

The Record was also looking into a tip that local restaurateur Kari Newell — who Cody called “Honey” in a phone conversation recorded on his body camera — had an unresolved DUI from years ago on her record, while applying for a liquor license for her business.

Like the paper, Herbel had received and looked into the DUI matter, sharing what she found with the city administrator.

Unlike the paper, she didn’t verify it against the state drivers’ license database, which was the genesis of an overblown identity-theft complaint by Newell.

Through it all, Herbel has been kind of an asterisk on the case, a more-or-less forgotten victim, like when a plane crash kills a famous celebrity and “two others.”

Herbel’s lawsuit differs from the others in that it alleges that the primary purpose of the plot was to get her removed from office, where she’d repeatedly clashed with former Mayor David Mayfield and other powers that be in city government.

Mistreatment by police, sheriff’s deputies

There are a lot of legal issues to unpack, but I’m not going to do that today.

This column is about the human tragedy of what happened on that sunny summer day when police officers and sheriff’s deputies came along and upended the lives of those who disagreed with the way their city was being run.

Herbel, and especially her husband, Ronald, suffered the same indignities and mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement that the Record owners and staff endured.

“The day of the raid, the officer, the sheriff’s officer, appeared at my door to serve the warrant,” Herbel said. “My husband answered the door, and he has dementia, and I was unavailable. So he went through the house hollering either ‘Honey’ or ‘Ruth’ and looking for me. And when I caught up with him, he was really upset.”

The deputy demanded Herbel’s computer and cellphone, and stacked them on a table while waiting for Cody to come by and interrogate her in front of her husband, which further confused and frightened him.

At the end of a half-hour of questioning and false accusations, Herbel inquired about her phone.

“I said you can’t take my phone, it’s the only one I have and I need it in case I have to have an ambulance for my husband,” Herbel said. “And he (Cody) says ‘Well, you committed a crime, I have to have it.’ So anyway, he took my phone and my computer.”

Cody called his chief lackey, Officer Zach Hudlin (now the city’s acting police chief), to come bag it and tag it, Herbel said.

“I asked him at that time, ‘Can I at least get the numbers off my phone, for medical numbers and my children?’” Herbel said. “I didn’t have these numbers anywhere else … Hudlin told me ‘No. You’ll just have to go get another phone’ … He said ‘Go buy another one,’ like they grow on trees.”

She did, and five days after the raid, the county prosecutor ruled the search warrants were invalid and requested return of the seized items. In a tragicomic twist, the police gave Herbel’s devices to the Record and she had to track them down.

Working with Wichita specialist to adjust meds

Nine months later, the mental damage is ongoing for Ronald Herbel.

“It had a lasting effect on him and he’s still very confused at times,” Ruth Herbel said. “We are still working with our specialist at Wichita to get his meds adjusted.”

The crime — if there actually was one — would have been minor at most. The Herbels were not a threat to flee or try to destroy evidence and basic police procedure dictates handling frail and elderly people with kid gloves.

There was no conceivable reason to treat this 81-year-old city official and her 89-year-old husband like they were Bonnie and Clyde.

Their lawyer, Jared McClain of the Institute for Justice, was right when he said it didn’t have to be like this.

“When they refused to let Ruth get the numbers out of her cellphone, it almost seems like they could all tell what they were doing was wrong, but each, individually, didn’t take the initiative to stand up and say, ‘This is wrong, I can just open the cellphone right now and let this woman get the numbers for her medical providers out,’” he said. “They all just went along, fell in line and I do think it’s endemic in these places were power is consolidated in too few people and there is not enough consequences to their actions.”

There’s a term for what law enforcement officers did to Ruth and Ronald Herbel — and especially to Joan Meyer — that day.

It’s called elder abuse.

And then they had a pizza party afterwards to celebrate.

Raiding the newspaper wasn’t Marion’s first attack on democracy and the 1st Amendment | Opinion

Most embarrassing leak ever: Marion police chief’s own video shows he’s unfit to serve | Opinion

At very least, Marion police raid on newspaper and official’s home was elder abuse | Opinion (2024)

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