The Justice Department will not file criminal civil rights charges against a police officer in Overland Park, Ks., who shot and killed an unarmed 17-year-old high school student who was backing a minivan out of a garage. Federal prosecutors said they could not show that the officer acted “willfully” while firing 13 shots into the minivan in two short bursts, in a killing captured by three police dashboard cameras. Six of the shots hit the driver. It was the second prosecutorial decision to clear former officer Clayton Jenison of any criminal wrongdoing, reports the Washington Post. A month after the January 2018 slaying, the district attorney in Johnson County, Ks., also declined charges, saying Jenison reasonably feared that he might be struck by the van driven by John Albers, who had told friends minutes earlier on Snapchat he was planning to kill himself.
The Justice Department said 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 “willfully,” meaning he “acted with a bad purpose to disregard the law.” “This was not the outcome we envisioned while seeking justice for John,” said Sheila Albers, John’s mother. Jenison received a $70,000 severance payment less than a month after the killing. Overland Park had allowed him to resign in 2018 without any notice to state licensing authorities about the shooting. Albers’s parents sued Jenison and Overland Park in federal court after Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe declined state charges. After a federal judge ruled that a reasonable jury could find that Jenison wasn’t in danger from the van, Overland Park paid the Albers family a $2.3 million settlement. Not long after the Justice Department announced it was opening a civil rights investigation into the case. Stephen McAllister, the U.S. Attorney who launched the civil rights case in 2020, met with Howe after reading the federal court ruling denying Overland Park’s motion to dismiss the Albers’s civil case or grant the officer immunity. After Howe explained why he thought the shooting was justified, McAllister remained unconvinced and got the Justice Department probe started.