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I-Team questions lead to Overland Park finding unreleased evidence in Albers shooting case

OP Envelope NEW.jpg
Posted at 4:54 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-23 00:04:18-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Questions from the KSHB 41 News I-Team led to the discovery of a sealed envelope containing evidence never made public in the 2018 fatal police shooting of an Overland Park teen.

The shooting death of John Albers took place at a south Overland Park home in January 2018. It happened as the reported suicidal teen backed his family’s van out of the garage while police responded to his home for a welfare check.

After reviewing an internal investigation and a report compiled by the Johnson County Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team, prosecutors declined to charge the officer involved in the shooting, Clayton Jenison.

Shortly after the shooting, the city reached a settlement with Jenison that allowed him to resign from the force in exchange for $70,000 severance pay.

But questions surrounding the veracity of the review of Jenison’s actions have been levied since Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe declined to file charges.

KSHB 41 News attempted to answer some of those questions by filing a lawsuit against Overland Park earlier this year, arguing for the full release of the county’s OISIT report.

The city eventually agreed to release the report, minus certain autopsy photos and other witness statements.

However, upon reviewing the report, Sheila Albers, John's mother, realized it referenced images that she had never seen, so she made a records request to the Johnson County Crime Lab.

That records request uncovered thousands of still images from dash camera footage.

"When I compared those pictures from the flash drive that the crime lab gave me to the pictures the city uploaded to the website, there are huge chunks of missing information," Albers said.

Although dash cam footage was previously released, Albers and other experts argue the still frames more clearly show where Officer Jenison was standing when he opened fire.

"The still photographs show that Jenison was never in any danger, that he broke policy because he used excessive force. There was no reason to draw a weapon, let alone shoot at the car," Albers said.

The I-Team shared the pictures with Lauren Bonds, Legal Director for the National Police Accountability Project.

Bonds agreed the still images provide a clearer perspective that Jenison wasn't in danger.

"It confirmed and provided me and other members of the public with more confidence that this was force that could have been avoided," she said.

So what happened to the missing images?

According to the OISIT report, all attachments, including audio, video were turned over to the DA and to Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez at the conclusion of the investigation.

The I-Team also obtained an evidence receipt from March 2018 that confirmed Olathe police gave the pictures to the Overland Park Police Department.

Yet earlier this month, an attorney for Overland Park swore under oath that the city had released the "entirety of the documentation it had received from the OISIT that has been in the City's possession since the investigation was initiated," except for things like death scene photographs and medical records, withheld for privacy reasons.

The city claims the flash drive it received from the OISIT team did not contain the images the I-Team recently obtained.

"On or about March 30, 2018, long after the OISIT team had concluded its investigation and transmitted the OISIT report to the City and District Attorney Steve Howe announced his charging decision, the Olathe Police Department transferred to the Overland Park Police Department evidence gathered during the OISIT investigation. No one from the City, to include the Police Department, had reason to believe there were any public records contained in this evidence that were not previously provided to us as part of the OISIT report," City of Overland Park Spokesman Sean Reilly wrote in an emailed statement.

The I-Team's questions prompted the city to search the police property room, a step Bonds was surprised hadn't happened before.

"I know that the records in this were pretty voluminous and there was a lot of stuff and a lot of places to search, but that's a pretty obvious place I think to search," she said.

Bernie Rhodes, the attorney representing the station in our suit, agreed.

"Overland Park's explanation is they never thought to look in the evidence room. Excuse me? It's called evidence for a reason," Bernie Rhodes, the attorney representing KSHB 41 in the lawsuit against the city, said this week.

In the police property room, the city found a sealed envelope that "has labels suggesting it may contain" the media files, but a spokesman said it can't open the package for legal reasons.

"Unsealing the evidence envelope may compromise the integrity of the evidence and/or create an appearance that the City is tampering with the evidence. It would be highly inappropriate, especially with an ongoing federal investigation, for the City to unilaterally unseal and inspect these evidentiary items," Reilly said.

The actions of the former Overland Park police officer remain under a federal civil rights investigation. It's unclear if federal investigators are in possession of the envelope, which would have been included in a list of evidence requested by a federal subpoena.

“There’s evidence sitting there that they’ve never even bothered to look at,” Rhodes said. “Yet they claim they’ve been completely transparent. Apparently so transparent they don’t even see the evidence themselves.”

John Albers' mom, Shelia Albers, who has spent the years since her son’s death trying to get answers, says the slip up, at the minimum, makes the city look sloppy.

“At worse, they’re complicit in a coverup,” Albers said. “And neither of those are what I would expect from leadership in this city.”

The city maintains it is fully committed to being as transparent as possible about the case.

An FBI spokesperson would not disclose what evidence it has in its possession as part of the federal investigation.

KSHB 41 News is continuing the fight for transparency. On behalf of the station, Rhodes filed a request for the release of the evidence turned over to Overland Park in March 2018.

Meanwhile, when reached by phone, Johnson County DA Steve Howe said police departments have the ability to slow dash cam video, so the views from these still images were already available to him in the days following the shooting.

Read the full statement from Overland Park below:

The City has released all of the information identified by the OISIT team as the OISIT report (with the exception of the information specifically called out as excluded or redacted [opkansas.org], such as autopsy photos and names of witnesses).

On or about March 30, 2018, long after the OISIT team had concluded its investigation and transmitted the OISIT report to the City and District Attorney Steve Howe announced his charging decision, the Olathe Police Department transferred to the Overland Park Police Department evidence gathered during the OISIT investigation. No one from the City, to include the Police Department, had reason to believe there were any public records contained in this evidence that were not previously provided to us as part of the OISIT report.

After you inquired about the property receipt obtained from the Olathe Police Department and whether there are media files with that evidence that were not published or identified as part of the City’s public release of the OISIT report earlier this year, the property room was inspected.

Upon inspection of the property room, it was confirmed there is a sealed evidentiary envelope that has labels suggesting it may contain such media files. Unsealing the evidence envelope may compromise the integrity of the evidence and/or create an appearance that the City is tampering with the evidence. It would be highly inappropriate, especially with an ongoing federal investigation, for the City to unilaterally unseal and inspect these evidentiary items. Therefore, the City cannot speak to whether those media files are actually included in the sealed evidentiary envelope or, if so, why the media files were not included in the thumb drives provided to the City by the OISIT. The City remains fully committed to being as transparent about this situation as possible.
Sean Reilly, City of Overland Park

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