Kansas mom pushing for more transparency in officer-involved deaths

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – A group of Kansans gathered at the Statehouse on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to pass a bill that would require an investigation be done after an officer-involved death.

Sheila Albers is one family member, among others, testifying in favor of the bill. Sheila lost her 17-year-old son, John, in 2018.

John chose to stay home alone while his parents and siblings went to dinner. John began posting concerning posts on social media threatening to hurt himself. His friends called the police.

When officers arrived, John was backing the family van out of the garage. The officer yelled for the teen to stop and then shot him two times. When the van continued to quickly reverse toward the officer, he fired 11 more shots. John was hit six times and killed. The police did not contact Sheila, she received concerned texts from friends and family after they saw John’s posts and the police outside the house.

“I ran down the sidewalk to get to John and the officer stopped me and I said, ‘is my son okay?’ and he said, ‘he’s passed’,” remembered Sheila. “I never got to see him.”

Sheila says they received no information from the police that night regarding John’s death.

“The only thing we knew was that John was dead and that somehow shots were fired,” she said.

There were no criminal charges filed against the officer. The Overland Park Police Chief, as well as an outside investigation, determined that the officer was justified in the shooting. The chief, Frank Donchez, said the officer, Clayton Jenison, was in fear for his life.

Sheila says her family is still struggling to get details from police about her son’s death two years later. Now, she is working alongside Overland Park Representative, David Benson (D), to make a change.

The proposed bill would require an outside, independent investigation be done on all police-involved deaths. Additionally, if an officer is cleared with no charges, like in the case of John Albers’ death, a full report of what happened and its investigation should be made open to the public.

“We don’t view this measure as anti-law enforcement in any way. Our law enforcement agencies do an outstanding job,” said Representative Benson. “We just think that in today’s society, with the video evidence that’s out there accompanying a lot of these issues, an investigative record should be made available to the public.”

However, law enforcement representatives are less sure of the bill, as it is currently written.

“I understand the talk about transparency and stuff but we’re trusted to investigate our own for criminal acts that they do, but we’re not trusted to be a part of this investigation when we need to be,” said Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter.

Easter, who testified on behalf of the Kansas Sheriff’s Association, says the bill creates a few problems for law enforcement. He says it does not make it clear what first responders are allowed to do at the scene of a police-involved death because the bill says the investigation must be done by an outside agency.

Easter says waiting for this outside investigation could lose critical time, evidence and witnesses. He adds local law enforcement should be able to start the investigation and then turn it over to an outside agency.

Easter added the other issues the Sheriff’s Association has with the bill include that it does not trust local District Attorney’s offices to make the right decision on criminal charges in these cases, and it does not require the Kansas Highway Patrol to follow the new regulations. Easter says if these issues are fixed, the Kansas Sheriff’s Association would support the bill.

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