DOJ declines charges in Overland Park police killing of John Albers

The Justice Department announced Friday that it will not file federal criminal civil rights charges against an Overland Park, Kansas police officer who shot and killed an unarmed 17-year-old high school student who was leading out his family van from a garage.

Federal prosecutors said they could not show the officer acted “deliberately” in firing 13 shots into the van in two short bursts, in a killing captured by three police dash cameras. Six of the shots hit the driver.

The decision, announced by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, was the second move by the prosecution to clear former officer Clayton Jenison of any crime. mischief. A month after the January 2018 murder, the Johnson County, Kansas prosecutor also declined the charges, saying Jenison had a reasonable fear of being hit by the van driven by John Albers, who had told friends a few minutes earlier on Snapchat that he planned to kill himself. The friends called 911.

The Justice Department said in a statement that to prove a federal criminal civil rights violation, prosecutors would have to show that Jenison not only used force that was constitutionally unreasonable, but that he did so “willingly,” meaning he “acted for an evil purpose”. ignore the law. »

“It is not enough for the government to prove that an officer acted out of fear, error, panic, misperception, lack of judgment, negligence or gross negligence,” the department said.

The statement added, “Unlike many state jurisdictions that have laws criminalizing murder committed with lesser mental states, such as criminal negligence or recklessness, the federal government has no law that criminalizes the use of ‘unreasonable force by a policeman, if the will cannot be proven. beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Justice Department lawyers met with Albers’ parents last month to tell them of their decision. “This was not the outcome we envisioned in seeking justice for John,” said Sheila Albers, John Albers’ mother. “The absence of an indictment under federal law does not change the fact that we need significant changes to the system that investigates these tragedies and that our local leaders promote community evolution of enforcement. of the law.”

She added, “They make it clear that this should have been a state level charge. And we have local officials who still haven’t done the right thing.

Overland Park, which paid Jenison a $70,000 severance package less than a month after the murder, said he cooperated fully with the investigation and was “grateful to the FBI and the Department for Justice for investigating and reviewing this matter. The Overland Park Police Department strives to defuse and prevent the use of force where possible. This situation was tragic and we in the city continue to keep the Albers family in our thoughts.

Morgan Roach, Jenison’s attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe denied state-level charges in 2018, Albers’ parents sued Jenison and Overland Park in federal court. Following a federal judge’s ruling that a reasonable jury could find that Jenison was not in danger because of the van, Overland Park in 2019 paid the Albers family a $2.3 million settlement. howe did not respond to a request for comment.

Sheila Albers continued to press for information about the shooting and found that Overland Park allowed Jenison to resign in 2018 without notice to the filming state licensing authorities. Shortly after this revelation, the Justice Department announced it was opening a civil rights investigation into the case.

After shooting and killing unarmed teenage driver, Kansas cop was awarded $70,000 severance pay

Stephen R. McAllister was the US attorney from Kansas who started the civil rights case in 2020. He is also a law professor who teaches civil rights at the University of Kansas. He said in an interview last week that after meeting Sheila Albers – and then reading the federal court’s decision denying Overland Park’s motion to dismiss the Albers’ civil case or grant the officer immunity – he had met Howe. Howe explained why he thought the shooting was justified, but McAllister was unconvinced and launched the Justice Department investigation.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City media filed a lawsuit seeking details of Jenison’s split and for the release of the police filing. In 2021, Overland Park released the almost 500 page folder, offering a rare insight into how the police investigate one of their own. The Washington Post recently released a 20-minute film examining the investigation.

The shooting happened at dusk on January 20, 2020. John Albers had been arrested for shoplifting earlier in the day, and his parents said he was still upset and refused to join them for dinner with a parent. After his parents and two younger brothers left, Albers wrote in his diary that he planned to kill himself, then posted a video of himself on Snapchat making similar comments. Some of his friends called 911.

Jenison and another officer, Ryan Newlon, were dispatched to the Albers’ home. Police records show they had no prior experience with Albers or knowledge of his arrest that day. Dashcam footage shows the two officers approaching the house, not knocking on the door or announcing themselves, and then Newlon returned to his car to pick up a phone.

As Jenison stood alone in the front yard, the garage door opened. Albers’ Honda Odyssey van had its headlights on and the driver began to slowly back up. Video shows Jenison approaching the garage with her gun drawn and shouting “Stop!” three times, then stepped back and fired two shots.

The van stopped. Then he went back down the driveway, turned 180 degrees and placed Jenison in the rear center of the van. The video shows Jenison quickly getting into the side of the van. As the van backed into the garage, video shows Jenison fired another 11 shots into the side, killing Albers.

Unarmed teenage driver is killed by police, followed by a year with few answers

Overland Park did not investigate the shooting. The Johnson County Police Department uses an “Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team” comprised of uninvolved departments to handle police shootings. A commander from nearby Olathe, Kansas, then Deputy Chief Shawn Reynolds, took over the investigation, which records show was completed in six days.

Police records show that the OISIT investigation did not make a scene diagram, conduct a scene visit with Jenison, review Jenison’s personal or military records, and did not dispute his claim that he was in mortal danger because of the van. The interview with Jenison lasted less than 40 minutes, police video shows.

A 3D digital reconstruction of the shooting, created by The Washington Post, indicates that Jenison was not in the way of the van during one of the 13 shots he fired. He, Howe and Reynolds, now the chief of Temple, Texas, all declined to discuss the investigation. Jenison has not returned to the police since the murder. Reynolds did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. He and Howe previously said they could not discuss the case because it was under federal investigation.

The Justice Department statement recounts the findings of the FBI investigation, noting that “Albers began to slowly back the van out of the garage” and that Jenison “got out of the way of the van and, without identifying herself verbally as a policeman, fired two shots into the van.

The statement says the van turned around and “slowly backed toward the house. The officer again found himself briefly in the path of the van as it began to back up, but he pulled away and the vehicle again passed him. He then fired 11 times into the van in less than about three seconds.

Federal prosecutors took note of the judge’s ruling in the Albers’ civil suit, saying a jury may find that Jenison used unreasonable force in her first two shootings, “and the federal criminal investigation found no no substantial evidence inconsistent with that conclusion”.

Appointed by President Donald Trump, McAllister resigned as a U.S. attorney last year when President Biden took office, but maintained contact with the Albers family and accompanied them to the meeting in Kansas City. , Kan., with Washington Justice Department officials when the decision was first revealed. “I think the Federal team did their job honestly, professionally,” McAllister said. “I disagree with the result, but ultimately the federal standard [of willfulness] is high.”

“If it were up to me as an American attorney,” McAllister said, “I would push hard to indict him and let a jury decide. … I also think there’s a strong consensus at least in the federal side, that there is more than enough evidence to indict [Jenison] with reckless homicide. The state authorities were therefore wrong to decline the charges.

McAllister was highly critical of the OISIT investigation, its missing exhibits, and its focus on Albers’ juvenile criminal history, which Jenison was unaware of. “It’s just tragic that the Albers were victimized twice,” he said, “by what Jenison did and then by what the OISIT team did.”

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