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41 Action News sues Overland Park for records related to Albers shooting

Overland Park police officer fatally shot teen in 2018
Family of teen shot, killed by Overland Park Police files civil suit
Posted at 12:47 PM, Jan 19, 2021

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — An Overland Park police officer fatally shot a 17-year-old boy in 2018. 41 Action News is now suing the city to get a key report about the incident.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday on the eve of the three-year anniversary of John Albers’ death.

Doorbell and dashcam video, which has been publicly released, show Officer Clayton Jenison pull his service revolver from his holster as the garage door opens at the Albers' home and the teen begins to back out driving the family minivan.

Overland Park police had been called to the Albers’ residence to conduct a welfare check on the teen in response to a call he might harm himself.

As the minivan backed down the driveway, Jenison fired 13 shots, killing Albers.

John’s mother, Sheila Albers, has spent the last three years unhappy with the city’s justification for the shooting.

"There is a piece of me that has no peace because there have been no answers," she said.

Sheila Albers believes at least some of those answers could be found in the Johnson County Multi-Jurisdictional Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team's report regarding the incident.

But the city of Overland Park has denied the Albers family, 41 Action News and the public access to the OISIT report and other documents relating to the case.

"It's unconscionable that the city finds this OK," Sheila Albers said.

An attorney representing 41 Action News believes the records should be released.

"The world will not stop spinning on its axis if those files are made public," attorney Bernie Rhodes said. "What will stop is the idea that the police are unaccountable to the public."

An Overland Park spokesman told 41 Action News Tuesday afternoon the city planned to answer any allegations "through the court."

41 Action News has reached out to the Johnson County District Attorney's office, which said it had no comment on the lawsuit.

According to the complaint filed by 41 Action News, there is precedent for releasing the Shooting Investigation Team's report publicly in the Albers case, which the FBI confirmed was being investigated for possible civil rights violations in September 2020.

Read the Lawsuit

The lawsuit cites a Gardner police officer's fatal shooting of a woman named Deanne Choate in 2015.

Choate’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Gardner in civil court, similar to a wrongful death lawsuit the Albers family filed against Overland Park after John's shooting. The Albers family's civil suit was settled in January 2019.

“The city of Gardner used and wielded the OISIT file as its primary defense in the case,” Rhodes said.

The Choate case also caught Sheila Albers’ attention as part of a records request she made on past cases involving the Shooting Investigation Team.

Court records show Choate’s boyfriend told Gardner police she was drunk, had a gun and Choate might be trying to kill herself.

Those same records indicate that, when officers arrived at Choate’s Gardner home, they demanded Choate, who was lying in bed, produce the gun.

When she told them the gun was in bed with her, the officers opened fire and killed her, according to court documents.

Even though a Florida expert later testified in the lawsuit that police should’ve restrained Choate instead of demanding to get the gun, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe didn’t charge any of the officers with a crime.

"Shocking," Sheila Albers said of the DA's decision, "I think it's very shocking."

Court records also show the lead officer responding to the call at the Choate residence had previously been fired by the Lenexa Police Department. He also was cited for dereliction of duty while working for the Paola Police Department and had no crisis intervention training despite responding to a call regarding a possibly suicidal drunk woman with a gun.

"Did we learn anything from it? No," Rhodes said. "The OISIT team did their investigation, Steve Howe washed his hands and so what happened? John Albers is shot and killed and another avoidable tragedy, because nobody learned their lesson from the Deanne Choate case."

Rhodes noted in the lawsuit filed on behalf of 41 Action News that Overland Park attorneys have already released pieces of the Albers report as part of the city's defense in the wrongful death lawsuit.

But Sheila Albers believes the release of the full report in the Choate case is an excellent argument for the release of the full report in the death of her son.

"They've hidden so much already that we've uncovered," Sheila Albers said. "It just leads me to believe that there's even more there."

The 41 Action News complaint also highlights conflicting information from officials regarding the Albers shooting.

For example, Rhodes pointed to a written statement Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach made a few days after the deadly shooting: "At this time the Johnson County Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team is conducting a criminal investigation. ... These findings will be made public at the appropriate time.”

They have not, in fact, been made public.

“False promises," Sheila Albers said, "he has not kept his word. Mayor Gerlach needs to keep his promise. He needs to make those records public so that we as citizens of Overland Park can trust our elected officials."

Instead of releasing the Shooting Investigation Team's report publicly, our complaint noted how Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez and Howe announced a few weeks after the shooting that Jenison would not be charged with a crime based on a report they would not release.

However, as Rhodes pointed out, Howe released what he called a "fact sheet" to the public.

According to that information, Howe claimed Jenison was standing directly behind the minivan as John Albers backed it out of the garage. He said, for that reason, Jenison feared he would be run over and opened fire in self-defense.

“Based on the evidence that we have available, that was a reasonable belief,” Howe said during a Feb. 20, 2018, announcement that Jenison would not be charged with a crime.

However, evidence in the case shows all 13 bullets fired from Jenison's gun went through passenger side windows.

"He (Howe) disseminated a false narrative is what he did," Sheila Albers said.

The back windshield, which Howe claimed Jenison was standing directly behind, had no damage.

"As we say in the lawsuit, bullets don't bend," Rhodes said.

In the now-settled Albers wrongful death lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree wrote that the facts contradict Howe's claims.

"Officer Jenison was not standing in a confined area or in the van’s direct path," Crabtree wrote.

"Steve Howe is not entitled to his own version of the facts," Rhodes said. "The facts are the facts."

Additionally, according to 41 Action News' lawsuit, Donchez publicly claimed Jenison left the Overland Park Police Department for personal reasons. An I-Team in June 2020 determined that Overland Park actually paid Jenison $70,000 to resign.

“I think it’s shameful and I think it’s disgusting," Sheila Albers said. "It’s a blatant lie to the public, that’s what it is."

Rhodes agrees.

"Steve Howe and Frank Donchez have told so many stories that they make the little boy who cried wolf look like a saint,” he said.

Those statements are another reason Sheila Albers wants to see the Shooting Investigation Team's report for herself.

“There have been so many contradictions in the information that the D.A. and the city have provided us and the community that we need the truth," she said. "We’re owed that truth."

After the I-Team's report on Jenison’s buyout, Gerlach conducted a news conference in August 2020 to answer questions about the Albers case and the payment made to the former police officer.

Gerlach said that Overland Park City Manager Bill Ebel made the decision to buy out Jenison, even though Johnson County officials, including Donchez and Howe, had repeatedly said Jenison did nothing wrong when he killed John Albers.

Ebel wasn't made available for comment at the news conference.

"Bill Ebel, the city manager of Overland Park, is like the Great Oz, behind the curtain manipulating everything that goes on but refuses to come out and publicly defend his actions," Rhodes said.

Rhodes said it took him months to put together the lawsuit for 41 Action News, but it only took the Shooting Investigation Team six days to finish its report on the Albers shooting.

"I won't have peace completely around losing my son until I can see the records surrounding the night of January 20th," Sheila Albers said. "It almost feels unfathomable that I would finally get those answers. I’ve waited so long; I’ve asked so many times."

Rhodes noted in the complaint on behalf of 41 Action News that the Shooting Investigation Team's protocols mirror those from a book by David E. Hatch on officer-involved shootings, which can be purchased on Amazon for $6.82.

“You don’t even have to be a (Amazon) Prime member to get free shipping,” Rhodes said. "I'm not claiming that the OISIT file was complete, because I don't know. But I know it's more complete than what I have."

This isn't the only lawsuit related to records regarding the Albers shooting and Jenison's buyout. The Kansas City Star has filed suit to get the separation agreement between Overland Park and Jenison, which the I-Team also previously requested.