Lawsuit: Teen killed by Overland Park police was 'simply backing his mom's minivan'

Dashcam footage of the officer-involved shooting of 17-year-old John Albers

Overland Park Police Department dashcam footage of the fatal officer-involved shooting of 17-year-old John Albers. WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT.
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Overland Park Police Department dashcam footage of the fatal officer-involved shooting of 17-year-old John Albers. WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT.

The Overland Park police officer who killed 17-year-old John Albers was never in danger and had no reason to even unholster his weapon before firing 13 times into the family's minivan, his family claims in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The officer "acted recklessly and deliberately" when he shot and killed Albers, who may not have known police were at his home and was "simply backing his mom's minivan out of the family garage," the lawsuit says.

"A vehicle passing a police officer does not give that officer an ongoing license to kill an unthreatening citizen," it says.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, by the teenager's mother, Sheila Albers, names the officer, Clayton Jenison, and the city of Overland Park as defendants.

The officer, the Albers family says, used excessive force in violation of the 4th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Overland Park, the lawsuit contends, had inadequate policies or did not enforce policies, leading to Albers' death.

Overland Park, which has not identified the officer in the shooting, previously said the officer resigned for personal reasons since the shooting Jan. 20.

Jenison's father, Cecil Jenison, reached by phone at his home in Wellsville, New York, said Jenison served in military combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and has been out of the service for a couple of years. Jenison recently became the father of twin daughters, his father said.

Attempts to reach Clayton Jenison for comment Tuesday afternoon were unsuccessful. No one answered the door at his Olathe home and a message for the attorney representing both Jenison and the city was not immediately returned.

Sean Reilly, spokesman for the city of Overland Park, said he could not discuss the lawsuit.

"We are aware of the lawsuit and we will respond as appropriate in court," he said.

John Albers
John Albers

Police rushed to the Albers' home in the 9300 block of West 149th Terrace at dusk Jan. 20 after someone who had seen Albers threatening suicide on FaceTime called the police.

Albers, identified only as "J.A." in the lawsuit, had a history of mental distress. He was alone in the house and then got into the minivan in the garage. He opened the garage door and backed the van down the driveway and was fatally shot by an officer, the lawsuit says.

A month later, Johnson County Prosecutor Steve Howe announced his finding after a multi-jurisdictional investigation, that the Overland Park police officer reasonably feared his life was in danger and that the shooting was justified.

Dashcam video released by authorities at that time showed the van slowly backing out, taking two gun shots fired from the side, and then whipping around backwards toward the house again as the officer fired 11 more times, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims Albers was already incapacitated by the first two shots, leaving the van out of control as the officer fired the rest of his bullets.

What started as "a welfare check," the lawsuit says, became a fatal shooting though "no officers or civilians were ever in any danger."

Jenison, according to dashcam video and the lawsuit, was one of the first two officers to arrive at the house after police were dispatched.

Police knew Albers had a history of mental health distress, though prior to Jan. 20, he had never threatened or attempted suicide, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit claims that the police had time but did not take the opportunity to try to contact Albers with any officers who had specialized in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to help de-escalate and diffuse mental health situations.

Jenison was not CIT trained, it says.

In police radio traffic, one of the first officers rushing to the house said, "I'm familiar with that kid."

The two officers who first arrived in separate cars were outside the house for "several minutes" without trying to make any contact with Albers, the lawsuit says. They never announced their presence as police and their were no lights or sirens activated on the cars.

There was no assurance that Albers even knew the police were there when he opened the garage, the lawsuit says, nor was there any probable cause for the police to believe Albers was a threat to anyone.

When the garage door began to open, Jenison moved toward the door and took out his weapon, the lawsuit says.

"There was absolutely no reasonable basis for . . . Jenison to unholster his firearm at this time or any point in the interaction," the lawsuit said.

The garage door took nine seconds to rise. Then the van's white reverse warning lights lit up, the lawsuit says.

Jenison moved toward the van, which the lawsuit said violated Overland Park police policy against self-imposed jeopardy. It was also contrary to recommended de-escalation techniques.

Jenison shouted, "Stop! Stop! Stop!" and then fired two shots, the lawsuit says, citing the dashcam video. Jenison was standing to the side of the van when he fired. The video shows Albers had pressed the brakes after the sound of the first shot.

The lawsuit says one of the first two shots incapacitated Albers, and that the rest of the movements of the van, now out of control, were caused by Jenison's actions.

By firing into the moving van, the lawsuit contends, Jenison violated Overland Park police policies and police safety standards that recognize the risk of a vehicle going out of control.

The lawsuit cited Overland Park's policy, which doesn't allow shooting into a moving vehicle "except in self-defense or defense of another and when the suspect is using deadly force."

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Albers never threatened deadly force, the lawsuit said.

Albers, the lawsuit says, was a junior at Blue Valley Northwest High School who had a 3.2 GPA and had recently scored 25 on the ACT college entrance exam. He played soccer for the school and was planning to go to college after graduation in 2019.

At the time he announced that the shooting was justified, Howe said that although the officer had moved to the side of the van, a vehicle can still be a danger with only a quick turn of the steering wheel. He also noted that the van had a rear-view camera.

"None of us can be in the mind of the officer at that time," Howe said then. "He felt he was in danger and took reasonable action."

The Albers family did not want to comment on the lawsuit, but their attorney, Mike Rader, said the family wants the police department to reform its policies on the use of deadly force and to reform how it responds to calls for help with someone in mental distress.

"They want the officer and department to be held accountable for unnecessarily killing their son," Rader said.

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John Albers, a junior at Blue Valley Northwest High School, was shot and killed by a police officer responding to a call at his home.

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Overland Park resident Doug Westerhaus raised questions at a public meeting about the Jan. 20 police shooting of teenager John Albers. The meeting had been called to take public comments on police accreditation.