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Mother believes new Overland Park police website 1st step in transparency

Sheila Albers
Posted at 7:37 PM, Dec 02, 2022

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — From demanding justice, to finding a sense of closure, the story of one mother's push for change has been years in the making.

This week, the Overland Park Police Department unveiled a completely revamped website.

While that might not seem like much to some, it means the world to Sheila Albers, who lost her son John in 2018.

It started when police were called to the family’s home on reports that John had threatened suicide.

But, before they could make contact with the 17-year-old, John was shot and killed by an Overland Park police officer as the teen backed out of the driveway in his family's minivan.

Since then, the KSHB 41 I-Team has covered nearly every aspect of this unfolding story, from legal battles and lawsuits, to state and federal investigations.

Through it all, one thing Sheila Albers has pushed for is more accountability and transparency from the police.

Finally, this week, Sheila Albers got her wish.

When John was fatally shot multiple times in 2018, Sheila's world crumbled.

The pain was further compounded when the district attorney ruled the shooting was justified, citing the officer's explanation that he felt his life was in jeopardy as the teenager backed out of the driveway.

"I remember that meeting very vividly and I remember feeling like all of the air was sucked out of the room, because I didn't understand why," Sheila Albers said.

Still, she pushed to get more information released.

"Ever since that meeting in February 2018, I have actively sought answers to questions, to information that I was not getting," Sheila Albers said. "Whether it was through open records requests, you know research on the internet, just any way I could glean appropriate information."

Her efforts attracted the attention of the Washington Post, whose team created a 3D scan of that shooting.

The Post showed the digital scan to multiple experts, who concluded the officer was never in harm's way.

And they weren't the only ones who took notice.

The FBI also got involved.

As the I-Team previously reported, after nearly two years of investigation, the FBI ultimately announced it would not indict the officer.

But, in an unusual move, it did issue a lengthy statement that made clear the FBI didn't condone the officer's actions.

"I think what it's trying to say although for the layperson it might be hard to understand, is they think this was definitely a bad shooting, an unreasonable shooting and unwarranted shooting," said Stephen McAllister, former U.S. Attorney.

He adds the lack of indictment just meant the FBI didn't feel it could prove the officer showed willful intent to deprive John of his civil rights, the high bar set for a federal indictment.

While that signaled the end of one fight for Sheila, there's been another fight she has long-pursued — getting police policies and procedures online, including information about how police involved shootings are investigated in Johnson County.

And this week, Overland Park added those details and more to the police page on the city's website.

That includes data on arrests made broken down by sex, race and gender; policies for dealing with mental health crises and an explanation on how the Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team or OISIT operates, something Sheila has especially been interested in.

"I was floored in a positive way, because Mayor Skoog and the new city manager Lori Luther did actually more than I expected," Sheila said.

As for Overland Park Mayor Curt Skoog, KSHB 41 sat with him earlier this week to talk about what prompted this change, asking if it would have happened without Sheila.

"Well, I think Sheila gets credit for this, along with other people in the community," Skoog said.

The mayor said before being recently elected, this was something he heard from constituents on the campaign trail, and his office felt it was important to make that information accessible.

Skoog weighed in on how he thinks this would improve community relationships.

"I hope so. We have always had lots of activities where police interact with the community," he said. "You know, coffee with a cop, and all kinds of different programs. And we hope this transparency enables our residents and visitors to feel more comfortable that we're not hiding anything."

He also points to a link on the new website that makes it easy for the public to submit complaints, or compliments.

For Sheila, this website marks years of work on her part.

It's also a step toward rebuilding the trust she says was previously broken for her family.