Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · May 29, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Kan.—RuthHerbel has lived in Marion for over 60 years. Rather than opt for a quiet retirement, she ran for and won a seat on the city council in 2019. For years, a political conflict simmered, with Ruth and the local newspaper on one side and Mayor David Mayfield and his allies on the other. But that local clash made headlines last summer when police raided the offices of the Marion County Record and Ruth’s home.

With a bogus warrant in hand, police raided Ruth’s home, and Police Chief Gideon Cody seized her cell phone. Even after the warrant was withdrawn, the chief and mayor continued to look for a way to prosecute Ruth. Government officials cannot use criminal investigations to punish their political opponents, which is why Ruth filed a federal lawsuit with the Institute for Justice (IJ) over the violations of her First and Fourth Amendment rights.

“Americans should be able to participate in local government without worrying that the mayor or police chief will retaliate against them for their political positions,” said IJ Attorney Jared McClain. “The warrant the police used to barge into Ruth’s home and take her only telephone and computer clearly did not satisfy any of the Fourth Amendment’s requirements. It was just a pretext to punish her for opposing the mayor and violate her free speech rights. Government officials cannot enlist law enforcement to silence their critics.”

READ the complaint.
WATCH a video.
DOWNLOAD photos.

Ruth ran for and won a city council seat after growing frustrated with corruption and mismanagement. At the time of the raid on her home, she was Marion’s vice mayor. Over the years she clashed repeatedly with the mayor, who attempted several times to remove Ruth from office.

In August 2023, a controversy over granting a liquor license to a local restaurateur and friend of the mayor got heated when Ruth and the newspaper were accused of improperly accessing records. Though Police Chief Gideon Cody knew the original source of the records, he concocted a warrant accusing Ruth and others of identity theft.

The search of Ruth’s home had a very serious human cost. Ruth’s husband, who has dementia, was traumatized when he opened the door to find the police serving a search warrant. Cody himself seized Ruth’s phone even though it was her only phone and had her children’s and medical providers’ numbers on it.

While the spotlight of media attention soon resulted in the withdrawal of the warrants, Cody continued to seek criminal charges to pin on Ruth. The week after the raid, Cody circulated a draft affidavit for Ruth’s arrest, even though the officer who drafted it admitted, “I am not sure it fits any of the crimes we have discussed except the US fed code. Maybe there’s something missing.”

“I ran for office because I love Marion, and in my wildest dreams I never thought I would end up at my kitchen table being charged with crimes,” said Ruth. “Political conflicts should be settled at the polls, not with warrants and raids. I’m suing because what happened to me was unconstitutional and I hope a victory would send a clear message to anyone who wants to use police power for political revenge.”

Ruth’s lawsuit alleges violations of her First Amendment rights to free speech and her Fourth Amendment right to be secure in her home. While the retaliatory search and seizure were supported by a warrant, the warrant was obtained based on knowingly false information that didn’t even amount to probable cause. The judge issued the warrant based on these material lies and omissions and did not require that anyone swear to its truthfulness. Any reasonable officer would have known the warrant was invalid.

The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate Ruth and her husband for the harm they suffered as a result of Mayor Mayfield and his allies’ retaliatory scheme.

“With tens of thousands of crimes on the books, government officials have many ways to disguise political retaliation as an ordinary criminal investigation,” said IJ Attorney Michael Soyfer. “When that happens, people must be able to hold the perpetrators accountable. Our constitutional rights are empty promises if people like Ruth can’t get justice in the courts.”

The Institute for Justice defends the right to criticize the government without fear of retaliation. IJ argued Gonzalez v. Castle Hills at the U.S. Supreme Court this term, a case that is similarly about a councilwoman retaliated against for her political opposition to her city’s mayor. IJ is also currently defending a citizen journalist arrested for his reporting in Texas, a man who had his vehicle seized and damaged when he used it to campaign against a mayor in Ohio, and government officials in Michigan who criminally prosecuted a man suing the county over the violation of his civil rights.