About six weeks after an Overland Park, Kan., police officer fired 13 shots into a minivan driven by an unarmed 17-year-old teen in 2018, killing him, the city paid the officer $70,000 in a severance agreement, the teen’s mother recently discovered.
The killing of John Albers by Clayton Jenison, in the driveway of Albers’s family home in a suburb of Kansas City, was captured by two police dash cameras and a Ring home security camera across the street. Jenison claimed that he thought Albers, whose friends called police because they believed he was suicidal, was going to run him over, though the videos showed Jenison was never in the van’s path. It was not clear, until the shooting started, that Albers ever knew Jenison was outside the family’s home in the prosperous suburb of Johnson County, Kan.
As is often the case in officer-involved shootings, Jenison’s name was not released initially – though it eventually became public through a wrongful-death lawsuit by the Albers family – and officials withheld all investigative reports about the killing. He was placed on administrative leave as a criminal investigation was launched.
In February 2018, the Johnson County district attorney announced that the officer would not be charged and that the slaying was justifiable. At the same time, District Attorney Steve Howe announced that the officer had resigned before any administrative action could be taken.
Overland Park officials did not disclose the following month that they paid a severance package in March 2018 to Jenison totaling more than $81,000, though records show his salary was roughly $46,000. City spokesman Sean Reilly said Thursday that “in the best interest of the community,” the city negotiated an agreement with Jenison “which resulted in his voluntary resignation,” to include $8,000 in pay, $3,040 in unused vacation and comp time, and a $70,000 severance payment.
No Overland Park city official would explain why they felt a $70,000 severance payment was “in the best interest of the community.” Mayor Carl Gerlach, Police Chief Frank Donchez, City Council President Fred Spears and city attorney Eric Blevins all did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Overland Park City Councilman Paul Lyons, who now chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, told the Kansas City Star that since the Johnson County prosecutor ruled the killing justifiable, Jenison couldn’t be fired. But police departments may move to fire officers whose acts are ruled legal, but are still in violation of department policy. Fired officers do not receive severance packages.
Jenison, 31, could not be located for comment, and his attorney, Michael Seck, also did not respond to a request for comment. Jenison is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and had been an Overland Park officer for two years. Since he was not fired or otherwise disciplined by Overland Park, he is free to join another police department.
In July 2018, four months after Jenison’s departure, friends of the Albers family requested documents on the terms of Jenison’s resignation. Overland Park refused to provide the records, according to Sheila Albers, the victim’s mother.
But Sheila Albers, who has since resigned her job as a middle school principal and launched an organization dedicated to improving police training in Kansas, did not stop digging. And on Sunday, she found payroll records for the Overland Park police in a government database, and she noticed that Jenison was paid $81,040 in 2018, a significant raise over his salary from the previous two years.
Overland Park officials then confirmed to reporters in Kansas City that they had issued the $70,000 severance payment.
After the payment was revealed, two Overland Park City Council members called for an executive session to determine the facts of the settlement with Jenison. Council member Scott Hamblin said Friday he and member Faris Farissati asked for the session because “The public demands and deserves transparency and as leaders we need to be ready and willing to provide it. As of today no executive session or other fact-finding measures have been taken.”
Sheila Albers and her husband, Steve, filed a wrongful-death suit against Overland Park and Jenison in federal court, in part because the police and prosecutor would not release reports about the case. After a judge ruled that “Officer Jenison was not standing in the path of the minivan” and that “a reasonable jury could conclude that deadly force was unreasonable because [Albers] only posed harm to himself,” the city settled the suit with the Alberses in January 2019 for $2.3 million.
Sheila Albers noted that the prosecutor, Howe, and the police chief, Donchez, announced Jenison’s resignation on Feb. 20, 2018, while the city apparently was still negotiating the officer’s severance package, which Reilly said was completed in March 2018.
“I have always questioned the integrity of the investigation,” Albers said. “You can’t conduct an impartial, thorough investigation of police misconduct while simultaneously negotiating a financial buyout.”
Officers were sent to the Albers home because John Albers had made comments to friends online that he was considering killing himself. Two officers arrived within minutes, but neither approached the front door or tried to make contact with Albers. Soon, the garage door opened and the family minivan slowly backed into the driveway, with Jenison perched to the right of the garage, the videos show.
Howe said that Jenison was “standing directly behind” the van, though a judge later ruled the officer was not in the van’s path. Howe said the officer shouted “Stop the car,” three times. On the video he is heard shouting “Stop” three times.
The van suddenly accelerated in reverse and did a 180-degree “J” turn, placing it very close to Jenison. He didn’t fire then. As the van reversed toward the garage, Jenison fired 11 times from the side, the video shows. The van stopped, then rolled forward out of the driveway. Albers was dead.
“Chief Donchez and District Attorney Steve Howe deceived the public on Officer Jenison’s aggressive actions,” Sheila Albers said, “obstructed justice and failed to hold anyone accountable for the death of my son.” She said the money paid to Jenison “could have funded Crisis Intervention Team training to prevent unnecessary violence in the future. Overland Park is a microcosm of the wider problem we have across the country: lack of transparency, failed systems of accountability, and leadership that neglects its duty to protect and serve the public.”