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Feds won't file civil rights charges against Overland Park officer who fatally shot teen in 2018

A woman, Sheila Albers, holds some notes and speaks at a podium with different clergy from the metro area behind her at Overland Park City Hall.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Sheila Albers, mother of John Albers, speaks at a press conference in 2021 at which faith leaders condemned inconsistencies in the Overland Park Police Department's reporting about her son's death.

Federal investigators did not find sufficient evidence that former Overland Park police officer Clayton Jenison willfully violated 17-year-old John Albers' constitutional rights when he shot and killed Albers. Jenison filed 13 shots into a minivan driven by Albers.

After more than two years of investigation, the Department of Justice announced Friday it would not file federal civil rights charges against the Overland Park police officer who shot and killed 17-year-old John Albers in his driveway as the teen was backing out of his garage.

While the DOJ declined to charge former police officer Clayton Jenison, it was critical of how he handled the situation.

"The department’s decision that it could not bring charges against the officer who killed John Albers does not alter the fact that his loss was an unnecessary tragedy, and should not be read as anything more than a determination that the department cannot prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, every element of the federal criminal statute, to include willfulness," the statement said.

Police were dispatched to the Albers' home on Jan. 20, 2018, after receiving a report that 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 vehicle, killing him.

The ordeal and frustration with investigators started from the minute the Albers family pulled up to their house and discovered police swarming the block.

At first, Albers' father, Steve Albers, thought his son had killed himself. But then, he later told the Washington Post, an officer on the scene said they were waiting for the Johnson County Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team (OISIT.)

“That was the first time anybody mentioned a gun,” Steve Albers told the Post.

It took the OISIT team and Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe just six days to clear Jenison of wrongdoing.

Over the next two years, more detail would emerge after KSHB-TV and The Kansas City Star filed lawsuits seeking records related to the incident. The records revealed a controversial $70,000 severance package Overland Park had negotiated with Clayton Jenison and details of the complete OISIT investigation.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and the local office of the FBI issued at least a dozen subpoenas for the records as well as hours of video and audio recordings.

The DOJ decision comes on the heels of an investigation into the shooting by the Washington Post.

The nearly 20-minute long video produced by the Post highlights flaws in the police investigation following the shooting.

In its statement, the Justice Department said its criminal investigation found "no substantial evidence inconsistent" with the finding of a federal court in Kansas that a reasonable jury could find that Jenison had used unreasonable force. But it said there was insufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Jenison "willfully committed a violation of the federal criminal civil rights statute."

"Specifically," the statement said, "the evidence does not clear the high bar that the Supreme Court has set for meeting this standard, and the department has therefore closed its investigation into this matter."

In 2019, Overland Park settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Sheila Albers for $2.3 million.

Reacting to the Justice Department's decision not to bring charges, Sheila Albers on Friday said it "was not the outcome we envisioned while seeking justice for John."

"However, we cannot ignore the underlying theme of the DOJ’s statement: local officials failed in their investigation, failed to bring viable state charges, and ignored the fact that a jury could definitely find that the officer used unreasonable force," she said.

She added that she was grateful to the Justice Department and FBI for conducting what she termed a "thorough and impartial review."

"It is up to our local city and county leaders to overhaul the Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team process to make it impartial, thorough, transparent, and accountable to the entire community — attributes that do not define the current policy," Albers said.

In a statement Friday, Overland Park said it and the police department had "fully cooperated" with the Justice Department's investigation and was "appreciative" that the FBI and Justice Department had investigated and reviewed the matter.

"The Overland Park Police Department strives to de-escalate and prevent the need for use of force whenever possible," it said. "This situation was tragic, and we at the City continue to keep the Albers family in our thoughts."

Stephen McAllister, who was the U.S. Attorney for Kansas when John Albers was shot, told the Washington Post on Friday that he disagreed with the outcome of the Justice Department's investigation.

"If it were up to me as U.S. Attorney, I would push hard to charge it and let a jury decide," McAllister, who now teaches at the University of Kansas School of Law, told the Post. "… I also think there’s strong consensus at least at the federal side, that there is more than enough evidence to charge [Jenison] with reckless homicide. So the state authorities were wrong to decline the charges.”

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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