OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — On Wednesday, an Overland Park citizen asked a judge to force the city and Johnson County district attorney to release records related to the night a police officer shot and killed 17-year-old John Albers.
A dispute over what the city and district attorney have the right to hold back from the public is at the heart of lawsuit.
In January of 2018, Albers was in emotional distress and threatened suicide to his friends over video chat. Officers responded to his home, and one who arrived on scene stood in the family’s front yard near a tree when the garage door on the home went up, and Albers backed the family’s minivan out. Afterwards, chaos ensued.
The officer fired a total of 13 shots at the van; six of the bullets hit Albers and he died at the scene. One month after the shooting, an officer-involved shooting investigation team gave its results to District Attorney Steve Howe, and he announced that Officer Clayton Jenison would not face charges.
The city maintains that Jenison followed policy, DA Howe says under Kansas law the officer was justified to use deadly force against Albers because it was reasonable that the officer feared for his life.
In January of this year, Overland Park paid more than $2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the Albers family. It accused the city of wrongful death for the shooting of Albers. In settling the lawsuit, the city did not admit any wrongdoing in the case.
After the teenager’s death, concerned members of the community formed a citizens group, JOCO United. The group’s goal is to work with law enforcement towards greater transparency, and for more complete training for officers to handle those struggling with a mental health crisis.
Mark Schmid is a key member of that group. He’s an Overland Park attorney who’s connected to the extended Albers family by marriage. Schmid is important because he is the plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Wednesday.
The lawsuit itself includes ten counts. The first eight focus on the city of Overland Park, and Schmid’s repeated requests for documents related to the city’s investigation about whether the officer followed policy, and how it changed policies as a result of its investigation.
“It’s important for the public to have as good of grasp as I can get about why the decision was made, decisions were made not to press charges against the officer, the determination of the officer acted reasonably, the officer was allowed to resign. All of those determinations are in stark contrast to a determination made in the federal lawsuit,” Max Kautsch, an attorney for Schmid, told FOX4 on Wednesday.
The final two counts focus on Howe’s refusal to release investigative reports. And while the lawsuit admits that they are criminal investigative records, it also argues that disclosing them is in the public interest.
“It’s important for the public to have access to the records to challenge or verify the decision that led to allowing the officer to be allowed to resign and otherwise not face responsibility for the death of John Albers,” Kautsch said. “The hope is that, especially the timeliness of this incident and how directly relevant it is to the public interest, that the judge will agree with my client that they should be disclosed.”
FOX4 reached out to Overland Park and to the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office for comment once the lawsuit was filed. They have yet to respond, but we’ll update this story with those responses once we receive them. The lawsuit, including exhibits, is 225 pages, FOX4 is digging through it and we’ll have more on this developing story.