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Former Johnson County DA Paul Morrison: Albers shooting report incomplete

Calls teen's death 'a bad shoot'
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John Albers
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Family of teen shot, killed by Overland Park Police files civil suit
Posted at 8:04 PM, Apr 30, 2021

OLATHE, Kan. — A former Johnson County District Attorney calls a key report in the 2018 shooting death of an Overland Park teen incomplete, a disappointment and lacking.

41 Action News filed a lawsuit against the city of Overland Park to obtain a copy of the Johnson County Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation Team, or OISIT, Report about the deadly shooting of 17-year-old John Albers by former Overland Park Police Officer Clayton Jenison, which the city released Thursday.

Former Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison reviewed the report after it was released and said, if he had been handed the OISIT report in the Albers case, he would have sent it back for more work.

"Whether it's criminal or not, who knows?" Morrison said. "I'd want some more information."

Morrison served as Johnson County District Attorney from 1989 to 2007 and prosecuted law enforcement officers when his office deemed it warranted.

Jenison and other Overland Park police officers were called to the Albers home in January 2018 to check on John Albers' welfare after a social media post showed the teen harming himself.

Video shows Jenison was on the passenger side of the vehicle as the teen started backing the family minivan out of the garage when the officer fired two shots.

"It's hard telling if the kid even knew anybody was back there or if it was the police or somebody else for that matter," Morrison said. "I don't think he handled it right. I think that's pretty clear. This is what in the parlance I think you'd refer to as a bad shoot."

Lauren Bond with the National Police Accountability Project agreed.

“A lot of times when we see situations where police are responding to an incident or a person in crisis, where it goes wrong is when there’s a plainclothes officer or a situation where there’s a no-knock warrant being executed,” Bond said.

She believes police should always identify themselves and said the dash-camera video released Thursday shows why.

“If it’s a family member who (Albers) is trying to get away from, it makes sense for him to keep going," Bond said. "If it’s a police officer saying, ‘I am a police officer and I have a gun,’ he might have responded differently."

Current Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe announced in February 2018 that he wouldn't prosecute the case, because Jenison feared he'd get run over. Howe cited the OISIT Report as part of that decision.

"Based on the evidence that we have available, that was a reasonable belief," Howe said of Jenison's claim.

But Morrison contends the OISIT Report lacks important evidence.

"I would've sent it back for more work," he said.

Specifically, Morrison said there wasn't any information on the trajectory of the bullets, which entered the side panels of the car and could've been traced.

Additionally, he said there was no background information about Jenison in the OISIT Report, but a lot of information about John Albers' troubled adolescence.

"The first thing I thought was, 'Why didn't you spend more time on the mechanics of the shooting and less time on what kind of a kid he was?'" Morrison said.

When the I-Team asked Morrison if the six days the OISIT Team took to complete the report was adequate time, he said no.

In a videotaped interview investigators conducted with Jenison released as part of the OISIT Report, the former officer, who Overland Park paid a $70,000 buyout to in March 2018, said he opened fire without even knowing who was in the car.

"I couldn't see anybody in the vehicle, sir, until the reverse lights came on and I knew someone was in there," Jenison said. "I didn't … I didn't know."

Morrison questioned the need to open fire.

"What would've been so bad if that car would've backed out at a slow rate of speed and driven off?" Morrison said. "They would've been able to stop the vehicle later. There was no reason to believe that kid is some kind of a maniac that's going to go out and kill somebody. They had no information that he was armed and dangerous. This thing became lethal when it didn't have to be."

Morrison said it's a good thing the FBI is conducting its own civil rights investigation into this matter because it deserves another set of eyes on the case.

"I don't think it was a justifiable use of lethal force," Morrison said. "Does that rise of him being charged with voluntary manslaughter or something of that nature? It's a little too early to say."

Voluntary manslaughter is defined under Kansas law as "knowingly killing a human being upon an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified that use of deadly force."

Morrison said three-plus years after the fatal shooting, it's not beyond the statute of limitations for either the federal government or Howe to get more information, reopen the case and possibly brings charges.

Morrison doubts Howe would do it.

While he didn't address the buyout Overland Park City Manager Bill Ebel paid Jenison, Morrison did indicate he believes there's an ongoing issue of police officers who've performed badly on the job being able to resign instead of being fired.

"It's a problem, and one of the reasons it's a problem is oftentimes those officers turn up in other cities and the city that hires them won't necessarily know their history," Morrison said.

41 Action News Reporter Ariel Rothfield contributed to this story.