Unconstitutional Raid of a Political Opponent’s Home

Ruth Herbel moved to Marion, Kansas, as a young woman and has lived there for over 60 years. She raised a family while serving in several state and federal government jobs. But rather than opt for a quiet retirement, Ruth kept working to make her hometown a better place. She was elected to the city council in 2019.

Ruth’s focus on fighting what she saw as corruption brought her into opposition with Marion’s mayor, David Mayfield, and his allies, who tried at least four times to have Ruth removed from office.

In August 2023, the small-town conflict in Marion exploded, making headlines around the world.

The Marion County Record has been published continuously since 1869 and, like Ruth, it often came into conflict with the mayor. Both Ruth and the newspaper received information that a local restaurant owner close to the mayor had a DUI conviction that could have prevented her from getting a liquor license. In a contentious city council meeting, Ruth and the newspaper were accused of improperly accessing the restaurant owner’s driving record.

The mayor and his recently appointed police chief, Gideon Cody, saw a chance to punish their political opponents. The police chief drew up warrants that hid the fact that he knew that neither the newspaper nor Ruth had accessed any government databases improperly, but nevertheless alleged charges of identity theft. They shopped for a judge who would sign that warrant and found one nearly an hour outside the county. The chief and his deputies were soon pounding on doors and collecting cell phones and computers.

One of the warrants was served at the home of Joan Meyer, the 98-year-old co-owner of the Marion County Record. Meyer died the day after the raid as a result of a stress-induced heart attack. The police also showed up at Ruth’s door, traumatizing her husband, who suffers from dementia. They seized her cell phone, which was her only phone and had all her family and medical contacts on it.

The outcry over the raid of the newspaper and Meyer’s death turned the tables on the mayor and police chief. The county attorney withdrew the search warrants and, while the police continued to draw up a warrant to arrest Ruth, they never went through with it. Under the cloud of the abusive raids, the mayor left office and the chief resigned.

The retaliation Ruth faced for her political opposition is a grave violation of the First Amendment. Ruth is suing with the Institute for Justice to hold the mayor, the police chief, and the city accountable. Her lawsuit is about sending a clear message that government officials cannot use criminal investigations to silence their critics and protect their friends.

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