The Kansas City Star Sues To Obtain Records In Police Killing Of Overland Park Teen
The city has refused to turn over the records although employment-related agreements are deemed open records under the Kansas Open Records Act.
The Kansas City Star is suing to obtain Overland Park’s severance agreement with the police officer who shot and killed 17-year-old high school student John Albers in 2018 as he was backing out of the driveway of his home.
The city has denied The Star’s requests for the records under the Kansas Open Records Act, although the law deems employment-related and settlement agreements to be open records.
Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez announced at a press conference on Feb. 20, 2018, one month after the shooting, that Officer Clayton Jenison had resigned from the police department for personal reasons. But it was later discovered the city had paid him $70,000 in severance four days earlier.
Since then, city officials have offered different reasons for Jenison’s departure from the force, according to The Star’s lawsuit.
In August, Overland Park City Manager Bill Ebel described Jenison’s departure from the force not as a resignation but as “a mutually agreeable separation.” A few days later, Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach said the purpose of the “negotiated” severance agreement was to remove Jenison from the force because “we did not want him as an officer.”
In its lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday in Johnson County District Court, The Star asks the court to declare that the severance agreement is an open record and to order the city to turn it over to the newspaper.
“Because the city has misled the public for so long with its many misstatements, the only way to get to the truth is for the public itself to see the actual agreement Overland Park and Officer Jenison signed,” The Star’s attorney, Bernie Rhodes, told KCUR in an email.
“It is said sunshine is the best disinfectant. This lawsuit seeks to help cure the long-suffering wound to the community caused by the city’s refusal to be honest about its decision to pay off Officer Jenison by shining a bright light on it.”
Overland Park City Attorney Tammy Owens did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Police were dispatched to the Albers home on Jan. 20, 2018, after receiving a report that John Albers, who was alone at home, was suicidal. Shortly after they arrived, a minivan began backing out of the garage. Jenison fired twice at the vehicle and then, after it made a U-turn, fired 11 more times. Six of the bullets hit Albers, who was driving the minivan, killing him.
A month later, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe announced that no charges would be filed against the then- still-unnamed officer who fired the bullets. But last month the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas announced that they were investigating the incident.
“The Kansas City FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights division, and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas have opened a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of an Overland Park teen, John Albers,” Bridget Patton, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Kansas City field office, said in a written statement.
“The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence and will ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair, thorough and impartial manner. As this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.”
Last year, Overland Park settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Albers’ mother, Sheila Albers, for $2.3 million.
The Star is not the only news outlet that has sought to obtain the city’s severance agreement with Jenison. KCTV Channel 5 filed an open records request for the agreement in August and reported the city responded that it would cost the station at least $34,000 and take more than two-and-a-half years to complete.