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Suit alleges Mayfield conspiracy

Staff writer

A conspiracy led by then-mayor David Mayfield used “lies and omissions” in an “illegal” attempt to silence council member Ruth Herbel and this newspaper, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

“They wanted to ensure she could never criticize them again,” the suit alleges.

Filed on behalf of Herbel and her husband, Ron, it is the fifth federal suit stemming from raids Aug. 11 on the Record newsroom, the Herbels’ home, and the home of Record owners Eric and Joan Meyer.

Joan Meyer, 98, died a day after the raids from stress. Ron Herbel’s dementia was aggravated by the raid, leading to depression, anxiety, and weight loss, the suit alleges. Ruth Herbel has suffered headaches and sleeplessness, as well. Both are in their 80s.

The suit alleges that Mayfield “enlisted his political allies in a conspiracy to remove Ruth from office.”

Among the allies identified as a co-conspirator but not formally named as a defendant is current city council member Zach Collett, whom the suit accuses of trying to persuade Kari Newell, then owner of two Marion restaurants, that Herbel and the newspaper were out to get her.

Mayfield’s attempt to oust Herbel, the suit says, came after failure of two previous attempts he orchestrated — “a wildly unsuccessful recall attempt and a half-baked scheme to trick Ruth into agreeing she was an at-will employee,” subject to being fired.

“Finally,” the suit alleges, “Mayor Mayfield decided that charging Ruth with a crime was the only way to get rid of her.

“The problem for Mayor Mayfield was that Ruth hadn’t done anything wrong. So, they decided to make up something to get a warrant to search her home, computer, and phone. The search would then form the pretext for Ruth’s arrest.”

The suit characterizes “men with the power in Marion” as “resistant to change and public scrutiny” and depicts local government as marked by “dishonesty and lack of transparency.”

Mayfield’s attempts to oust Herbel, the suit contends, were to “retaliate” for her successful campaign to overturn a charter ordinance in December, 2022.

The ordinance, which he championed, would have greatly increased the city’s ability to go into debt while decreasing the power of taxpayers and council members to object.

Herbel’s 88-page suit was filed in Kansas City by the non-profit Institute for Justice, based in Arlington, Virginia, and the Herbels’ Kansas City law firm, Goodwin Johnston LLC.

It alleges grievous violations of the 1st, 4th, and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and asks for punitive as well as actual damages in unspecified amounts for five separate violations of the Herbels’ civil rights.

It names as defendants not only Mayfield but also:

  • Former Marion police chief Gideon Cody, whose “illegal” actions the City of Marion essentially endorsed, the suit states, by refusing to consider suspending him until nearly two months after the raid.
  • Sheriff Jeff Soyez, who recommended to part-time sheriff’s employee Mayfield that Marion hire Cody and whose office then “conspired” with Marion police to prepare for and conduct the raids.
  • Sheriff’s detective Aaron Christner, who drafted warrants used in the raid and later prepared arrest warrants even though he acknowledged that they “lacked a legitimate basis.”
  • Marion officer Zach Hudlin, who failed to conduct a thorough investigation and “disregarded” terms of search warrants used in the raids. His subsequent appointment as Cody’s interim successor was cited as evidence that the city “approved of and now ratified (his) actions during the illegal raids.”
  • Former sheriff’s detective Steve Janzen, who on orders from Soyez and Cody seized Herbel’s cell phone and laptop but resigned from the sheriff’s department days afterward. Two other deputies subsequently resigned, as well.

The city and county also are named as defendants in the persons of Marion’s new mayor and the board of county commissioners.

The searches Aug. 11 supposedly were to investigate identity theft involving Newell, whose two restaurants have now closed.

Acting through family friend Pam Maag, Newell’s estranged husband, Ryan, had provided both Herbel and the newspaper an image of a letter indicating that Kari Newell had been driving illegally for nearly two decades because of an unresolved conviction for drunken driving.

At various times, Cody falsely contended that the Record had stolen the letter and supplied it to Herbel, the suit alleges.

It states he was aware how the letter actually had been provided but, after meeting with Mayfield, opted to seek search warrants, nonetheless.

The suit contends that Christner drafted warrant applications, which were not legally sworn to, and that Cody engaged in “judge-shopping” by taking them to Morris County magistrate Laura Viar instead of Marion County judge Susan Robson.

“Magistrate Viar was the ideal candidate for the conspirators,” the suit states. “She and Kari Newell shared a similar criminal history and benefited from a similar lack of criminal enforcement.”

Before becoming magistrate, Viar was arrested twice for drunken driving, the suit says.

While in a diversion program for her first arrest, she was arrested again after she crashed a vehicle into a school.

There is no record of her second drunken driving case, the suit says, “because much like with Kari Newell, local law enforcement chose not to enforce the law against her.”

The suit raises questions about how much Cody might have attempted to involve Kansas Bureau of Investigation in seeking his warrants.

KBI publicly denied having a role, but documents obtained under the Kansas Open Records Act seem to indicate otherwise.

After a groundswell of international condemnation of the raids, KBI took over the investigation only to then recuse itself and ask Colorado Bureau of Investigation to take over.

Special prosecutors appointed in the case have not yet released any results of the CBI investigation.

According to the suit, Cody contended that Herbel broke federal law, which local officials generally do not enforce, merely by possessing information about Newell’s driving record.

If so, the suit questions, why were Mayfield and other city officials not charged with a crime?

On Mayfield’s instructions, the suit says, the city administrator at the time forwarded the driver’s information Herbel had obtained and provided to Cody and all other council members.

The suit quotes Cody as stating: “Possessing that thing alone, possessing it and then transferring it to someone else, even if it’s Brogan (Jones, the city administrator) is a crime. . . . I explain it to people like this, especially the KBI guy — is, it is a felony to do this for a reason.”

Actually, the suit states, the information in the letter was an open public record, available to anyone.

The suit recounts how Herbel pleaded with police not to seize her cell phone without allowing her to copy down numbers she needed to reach family members and medical providers for her husband’s illness.

She gave Hudlin a list of numbers she wanted, and he told her getting them wouldn’t be a problem. But, the suit says, she never received the numbers.

The suit states that Janzen told her that her phone and laptop would be kept for maybe only an hour. She did not get them back until three weeks later.

The suit recounts how Herbel objected to the items being seized without a preview search, as was required by the search warrant used.

Cody, however, told Janzen to take the devices rather than wait for a preview search.

“She can’t dictate to us what we do and don’t do,” the suit quotes him as saying.

The suit said Herbel was concerned that one of the items police might discover on her phone or laptop was an email in which she “suggested there was something romantic going on between Kari Newell and Chief Cody.”

In between raiding the Herbels’ home and the Meyers’ home, Cody was heard on body camera audio calling Newell, referring to her as “honey” while briefing her on the raids.

She is heard as saying, “Wow, that was fast.”

His response was: “Yeah, surprising how that works, isn’t it.”

Also questioned in the lawsuit was why authorities had not gone after other supposed breaches of law enforcement information.

It recounts how officers complained about supposedly confidential information being posted on a secretive Facebook page called Marion Crime, yet there is no record of any investigation of this ever taking place.

Last summer, county lake resident Gary Carpenter confirmed to the Record that he was one of the people behind the page. He contended that Kari Newell also was involved in posting material to the page.

Last modified May 29, 2024

 

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