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Kansas agency investigating how Johnson County's district attorney handled police shooting case

A man wearing a gray suit with a blue tie talks at a podium.
Leah Wankum
Shawnee Mission Post
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe is being investigated by the agency that disciplines attorneys in Kansas.

The investigation by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator was opened following a complaint by Sheila Albers, whose teenage son John was shot and killed by Overland Park police in 2018.

The Kansas office that investigates and sanctions attorneys is looking into the conduct of Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe, following a complaint alleging he lied about what happened the night 17-year-old John Albers was killed by an Overland Park Police officer in 2018.

The complaint was filed by Sheila Albers, John Albers’ mother. John Albers was shot to death by former Overland Park police officer Clayton Jenison in January 2018 outside of their home.

Albers alleges in her complaint that Howe violated the rule that says a lawyer should not knowingly “make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person.”

“I am arguing that Steve Howe made false statements and misled the public in regard to the event the night my son was killed,” Albers told KCUR.

The Office of the Disciplinary Administrator responded to Albers in a letter dated February 8.

“The allegations contained in your complaint will be investigated,” the office wrote in the letter, which was provided to KCUR by Albers. “The purpose of the disciplinary process is to determine if a Kansas attorney has engaged in unethical conduct.”

The Office of the Disciplinary Administrator did not confirm to KCUR they were investigating Howe, citing court rules that prohibit the office from even acknowledging a complaint was filed.

The Johnson County District Attorney’s office also declined to comment.

"Our office has no comment at this time," said Howe's spokesperson Melody Webb.

Albers based her complaint on two documents: a fact sheet Howe distributed to the media a month after her son was killed and a statement from the Department of Justice last September when the Civil Rights Division decided not to charge Jenison.

Police were dispatched to the Albers' home on Jan. 20, 2018, after receiving a report that 18-year-old John Albers, who was alone at home, was suicidal.

A month later, Howe issued a statement that said John Albers accelerated the family minivan out of the garage toward Jenison. Jension yelled to stop the car, drew his gun, and fired twice.

“Suddenly, the van accelerated rapidly in reverse, down the driveway, into the street, and performed a maneuver that investigators later described as a ‘J’ turn,” the statement read. “In a split second, the officer went from a position of safety to once again being directly in the path of the van that was accelerating toward him.”

Howe ruled that it was “reasonable for the officer to conclude” that his life was at risk.

But after a year-long investigation, the DOJ came to a much different conclusion. Investigators wrote that “Albers began to slowly back the minivan out of the garage and down the driveway.”

In all, Jenison fired 13 rounds and hit the teen six times in the head, neck and torso.

While the DOJ concluded Jenison did not violate Albers’ civil rights 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.

The discrepancies between Howe’s statement and the DOJ’s investigation were enough for Albers to file the complaint.

“There's no more debate about what occurred the night John was killed, and that those facts contradict what Steve Howe said in his statement on February 20th,” Albers said.

John Albers’ death has prompted several lawsuits, including two by Kansas City media outlets.

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

Jenison resigned from the Overland Park Police Department in March 2018. A severance package worth $70,000 was only revealed after a lawsuit from the Kansas City Star.

Another lawsuit from KSHB-TV pressured the city to release a report by the Johnson County Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team (OISIT), a group composed of investigators from various law enforcement agencies.

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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