NewsLocal NewsInvestigations


Panel dismisses complaint against Johnson County DA Howe in handling of Overland Park police shooting

DA: Officers justified in shooting death of teen
Posted at 4:05 PM, Jan 30, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-30 18:28:32-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a follow-up to a story KSHB 41 News has been following for years, a watchdog agency that serves as an arm of the Kansas Supreme Court has dismissed a complaint against Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe.

However, they have noted they are doing so "with caution."

The complaint was filed in September 2022 by Sheila Albers. Her 17 year-old son, John, was shot and killed by Overland Park police in 2018.

The teen had been experiencing a mental health crisis, prompting a welfare check at his home.

But, before police could announce themselves to Albers, he began backing his parents' minivan out of the garage.

District Attorney Howe declined to press charges against the officer who filed the fatal shots,

“He felt like he was the one who was going to get run over that the vehicle was going to strike him and believed that based on the evidence that we have available that was a reasonable belief and under Kansas law that will not face criminal charges," Howe announced in a press conference in February 2018.

It was that statement that prompted Sheila to file a formal complaint with the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator (ODA.) In her complaint, she claimed he violated the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct by making false statements or representations following John's death.

Sheila provided a statement Tuesday with KSHB 41's News' Caitlin Knute.

"In 2018, Howe declined to pursue charges against the officer who repeatedly shot and ultimately killed our son, John, as he backed our family’s minivan out of their garage. To justify his decision, he painted a false narrative in the Media Fact Sheet and in interviews and gave the poor-acting officer a pass on his deadly actions. Howe stated that John had driven the minivan “directly toward the officer in an aggressive manner” as “justification” for his decision. The Department of Justice later weighed in on Sept. 9, 2022, issuing a rare public statement finding fault in Howe’s statements and providing an accurate description of the incident. The DOJ made it clear that it concurred with a federal district court that had found it would have been reasonable to conclude the officer acted with unreasonable force. Both the Department of Justice and now the ODA have severely criticized Howe’s statements and the resulting narrative, instead finding that John had “slowly back[ed] the minivan out of the garage and down the driveway,” that the officer never identified himself as an officer, that the officer had not identified the driver, and that the officer was not in the vehicle’s path yet still fired directly at John through the side of the van. "

The ODA reviewed her complaint and released its findings on Monday.

"The review committee of the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys has directed that the complaint be dismissed, though it did not find the complaint to be meritless. The committee was concerned with the conduct of the respondent and directed that he be cautioned."

The Review Board examined the evidence in the case, "... including videos and the Department of Justice’s press release, the review committee was troubled by the following statement on page two of Mr. Howe’s press release: 'Right out of the garage, the teen drove the minivan
directly toward the officer in an aggressive manner.'”

The Review Board compared that to the findings of the Department of Justice who also investigated the case, noting the DOJ found John Albers backed out of the driveway "slowly, " adding, "...the review committee concluded that the Justice Department’s press release gave a more accurate description of the incident than compared to the description contained in Mr. Howe’s press release."

However, the Board ultimately concluded Howe's statement "... appeared to express an opinion justifying his decision not to charge the officer rather than a knowingly false statement of fact," adding some of Howe's statements in the press release were supported by evidence.

KSHB 41 reached out to Howe, and he provided a written statement.

“I am grateful for the Disciplinary Administrators Office’s dismissal of this complaint after a careful investigation," Howe said.

"A district attorney has wide discretion whether to charge individuals for crimes, but he or she does not have discretion when it comes to being truthful," Shelia told KSHB 41 on Tuesday. "We wish the ODA had taken stronger disciplinary action. However, we are pleased that DA Howe was strongly cautioned from making false statements in the future."