The Overland Park police officer who fired into a minivan as it backed down a driveway was facing "deadly force" when he killed the suicidal teen driver, the officer and the city said in reply to a lawsuit.
The mother of the slain driver, 17-year-old John Albers, sued the city and Officer Clayton Jenison in federal court last month, saying the officer was never in danger before he fired 13 shots into the minivan Jan. 20.
The city and the officer filed a response Friday, denying they violated Albers' constitution rights by using lethal force.
"Jenison had probable cause to use deadly force given his knowledge that J.A. (Albers) was reported as suicidal, was operating a van and posed a danger to Defendant Jenison and the public while recklessly operating that van," the response said.
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The van, the officer and the city said, "was being used as a means of deadly force."
Sheila Albers, who is the plaintiff in the lawsuit, said she could not comment. Her attorney, Mike Rader, did not respond to The Star's request for comment.
John Albers' elementary school principal and a family friend, Mandy Shoemaker, said she found the reply by the city and the officer troubling.
If the van was deadly force, Shoemaker said, "it was at 2.5 miles per hour."
She was referencing the lawsuit's argument that John Albers was simply backing the van out of the family's garage at a routine, slow speed. Sheila Albers' lawsuit also said the officer had moved toward the van as it backed up and then stepped safely to the side after shouting, "Stop! Stop! Stop!"
In the lawsuit, Albers, citing publicly released dashcam video, said the van stopped after Jenison fired his first shot and that Jenison fired a second shot. The van then made a J-turn, continuing in reverse back up the side of the driveway, and Jenison fired 11 more shots.
"Their first contact on a suicidal call was shooting him," Shoemaker said.
Police initially rushed to the Alberses' home in the 9300 block of West 149th Terrace after someone who had seen the teen threatening suicide on FaceTime called police. John Albers was home alone at the time.
Jenison was one of two officers who were the first to arrive outside the home. Jenison was standing near the driveway when the garage door opened and the van began backing out.
Jenison was the only officer who fired shots. A multi-jurisdictional team of investigators reviewed the shooting and Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe announced his finding in February that the shooting was justified under Kansas law.
The family soon filed the civil lawsuit, raising many concerns, including a claim that Jenison did not have Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) that teaches officers ways to de-escalate and diffuse situations involving a person suffering mental illness.
The response to the lawsuit says Jenison received training "in verbal communication and crisis intervention/behavior management/interactions with special populations."
The response also listed numerous incidents in which John Albers had contact with police and juvenile court, including that Albers had been a suspect in a theft report at Scheels sporting goods store the day he died.
The response listed the contacts with police, which it said demonstrated Albers' "propensity for violence."
Shoemaker criticized inclusion of the list of offenses in the response, saying it did not change the essential argument by Albers' family that neither the officer nor the community was ever in danger and that the officer did not attempt to de-escalate the situation.
"As a member of the community, if my own son were to have a rough patch in life and he had an encounter like this, do I have to worry about him being shot?" she asked.
A spokesman for Overland Park deferred comment to the attorney representing the city and the officer. The attorney did not respond to The Star's request for comment.