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Cop wanted to charge co-owner who died

Newly discovered evidence suggests broader conspiracy

Staff writer

Evidence newly discovered by the Record’s legal team suggests that a conspiracy much broader than the actions of a rogue police chief led to Aug. 11 raids on the Record newsroom and the homes of its owner and Marion’s vice mayor.

Marion police officer Zach Hudlin, now interim chief, appears to have been intimately involved.

After raiding the home that Record owners Eric and Joan Meyer shared, Hudlin discussed going back into the house and arresting Joan Meyer on charges of interfering with law enforcement.

Hudlin is heard on body camera video released under the Kansas Open Records Act as saying that Joan Meyer, 98, should be arrested for shoving her walker toward police as she attempted to prevent them from rifling through financial papers belonging to her son, Eric.

“If she wasn’t 100,” Hudlin is heard saying, he would have arrested her.

Surveillance video of Joan Meyer’s reactions to the raid is available online at http://mnks.us/joan.

She died of sudden cardiac arrest less than 24 hours later. A coroner’s report filed in her death said stress of the raid was a contributing factor.

She had warned officers during the 2½-hour search that the stress was too much for her.

“You know, if I have a heart attack and die, it’s going to be all your fault,” she is heard as saying on both body cam video and home security video that captured the raid.

In the nearly two hours she waited under guard by a sheriff’s deputy and state fire investigator, she also warned: “If you don’t think this is stress, what do you think it is? I’m working myself up into another stroke…. You’re going to cause me to have another stroke. That’s going to be murder.”

Later, she is heard saying: “You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re all going to be in trouble. If I die, you’re going to be sued for murder, and I’m just liable to.”

She also said: “I understand you’re doing what you’re ordered, but you don’t know what you’re doing to me. I’m not happy, and I never will be happy again.”

Hudlin earlier had botched investigation of how the Record had verified a driving record that had been supplied by an anonymous source, later identified as Pam Maag.

Hudlin reported to Chief Gideon Cody that he had determined that a Record reporter had viewed the document online, but he failed to obtain the name or job title of the person who told him so, identifying her only as a woman in the information technology department of the Kansas Department of Revenue.

Official spokesmen for the department later noted that the document was perfectly legal for any citizen to view.

Hudlin also noted, but failed to emphasize, that the information he had received indicated that the Record reporter had viewed the document two days after a time-stamped image of the document had been provided by Maag to the Record and to Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel.

The viewing two days later was, as Record publisher Eric Meyer already had reported to Cody and Sheriff Jeff Soyez, merely an attempt by the Record to verify the document before Meyer ultimately decided not to use it.

Hudlin also was the officer who, while rifling through reporters’ files in the newsroom, pointed out to Cody a file a Record reporter had maintained about allegations confidential sources had made about improprieties Cody had committed that were going to lead to his demotion at the Kansas City police department before he took the job in Marion.

The search warrant, later disavowed, allowed officers to do preliminary inspection of computers and other electronic devices to determine whether they might have been involved in what Cody alleged was a case of identity theft.

Searching through paper files of a reporter who was on illness and funeral leave at the time the driving record was viewed by the Record was beyond the allowed scope of the search, violating both the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Hudlin also searched reporters’ purses, according to body cam video.

Although released body cam video shows Cody relieving himself at a Casey’s General Store restroom in between his raids at the Record and the Meyer home, video of his viewing the file is mysteriously missing.

However, audio from Hudlin’s body cam contains a statement by him saying: “Hmm…. Keeping a personal file on me.”

Role of sheriff’s department

Hudlin wasn’t alone in playing a greater role than initially thought. Sheriff Jeff Soyez and his lead investigator, Aaron Christner, also played key roles.

According to documents obtained under the Kansas Open Records Act, Cody had not planned to raid the Meyers’ home but was urged to do so by Soyez, who pointed out that Eric Meyer often worked from home.

He apparently was unaware that Meyer used his mother’s computer only as a remote terminal, logging into his office computer at the Record via virtual private networking and doing all his work on that computer. The home computer would contain no evidence of what he did during those sessions.

After the raids, Soyez and Cody gathered for pizza and refreshments at the sheriff’s department.

During their lunch, Cody said that yanking a phone out of Record reporter Deb Gruver’s hand “made my day.” When Soyez pointed out that Cody had forgotten to turn off his body cam, Cody ordered Hudlin to help him do so.

Documents obtained under KORA also reveal that Christner, not Cody, drafted large portions of the probable cause affidavits that were submitted to justify the raids.

Documents also reveal that he refused to sign them, leaving it to Cody to do so.

Christner also was responsible for conducting the preliminary screening of electronic devices authorized by the warrant but apparently botched the screening by using keywords so generic that they yielded nothing but false results.

Among the supposedly incriminating items found in the search were a clipping, “The Haunted Hotel of Arkansas,” submitted by an unsuccessful job applicant years earlier; the advertising logo of the 8th Judicial District in Kansas; and an old advertisement for a showing of the movie “Finding Dory,” which showed up on a search for the term “DOR” (presumably, the Department of Revenue).

The only “hit” on a search for files containing the word “Maag” (indicating police already knew, from Ruth Herbel’s messages to City Administrator Brogan Jones, where the driving record had come from) was a prep sports story from 13 years earlier that mentioned Pam Maag’s son.

The only “hit” on a search for files containing the word “Kari” (a reference to Kari Newell, whose driving record had been viewed) was to a 20-year-old article about a former nursing home administrator whose first name happened to be Kari.

The only “hit” on a search for files containing the word “Ruth” (presumably Herbel) was about articles written in the 1970s and 1980s by Eric Meyer’s grandmother, Ruth Meyer.

Body cam audio reveals that police became frustrated that no evidence of criminality was revealed.

Their search warrant specifically stated that a preview search was needed “to exclude from seizure those (devices) which have not been involved in the identity theft.”

Every preview search performed on reporter Phyllis Zorn’s computer produced no evidence, but Cody nonetheless ordered seizure of that computer along with three other computers and three cell phones on which no preliminary searches had been performed.

That decision was made only after Cody conferred on the phone with Soyez and Hudlin had complained: “We’d be here all freaking day if we were going to do that to all these computers.”

After speaking to Soyez, Cody is heard saying: “All right, we’ll just take them all.”

Much of what was seized was done so on the basis of Cody’s gut instincts.

Among comments recorded while identifying computers to seize were:

  • “I have a feeling that numerous people had it in this office, and that’s just the gut.”
  • “I have a feeling on that one, too.”
  • “This is just me playing instinct.”

When notified by officers at Joan Meyer’s home that Eric Meyer was en route to the Record office, Cody instructed Hudlin: “If he interferes with anything, put him in cuffs.”

Cody also said that he found “amusing” Eric Meyer’s assertion that police were denying him his right to counsel by forbidding him access to his phone or office files to find his attorney’s phone number.

Last modified Dec. 7, 2023

 

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