The Kansas Office of Investigating and Sanctioning Lawyers is looking into the conduct of Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe following a complaint that he lied about what happened the night 17-year-old John Albers was killed by a Overland Park Police Officer in 2018.
The complaint was filed by Sheila Albers, the mother of John Albers. John Albers was fatally shot by former Overland Park Police Officer Clayton Jenison in January 2018 outside their home.
Albers argues in his complaint that Howe violated the rule that says a lawyer should not knowingly “make a misrepresentation of material fact or law to a third person.”
“I am arguing that Steve Howe made false statements and misled the public about the event the night my son was killed,” Albers told KCUR.
The disciplinary administrator’s office responded to Albers with a letter dated February 8.
“The allegations in your complaint will be investigated,” the bureau wrote in the letter, which was provided to KCUR by Albers. “The purpose of the disciplinary process is to determine whether a Kansas attorney has engaged in unethical conduct.”
The Disciplinary Administrator’s office did not confirm to KCUR that they were investigating Howe, citing court rules that prohibit the office from even acknowledging that a complaint has been filed.
The Johnson County District Attorney’s office also declined to comment.
“Our office has no comments at this time,” said Howe spokeswoman Melody Webb.
Albers based his complaint on two documents: a fact sheet Howe distributed to the media a month after his son was killed and a statement from the Justice Department last September when the Civil Rights Division decided not to indict Jenison.
Police were dispatched to the Albers’ home on January 20, 2018, after receiving a report that 18-year-old John Albers, who was home alone, was suicidal.
A month later, Howe released a statement saying John Albers sped the family minivan out of the garage towards Jenison. Jension yelled to stop the car, drew his gun and fired twice.
“Suddenly, the van accelerated rapidly into reverse, down the driveway, into the street, and executed a maneuver that investigators later described as a ‘J’ turn,” the statement read. “In a fraction of a second, the officer went from a safe position to being directly in the path of the van as it was accelerating toward him again.”
Howe ruled that it was “reasonable for the officer to conclude” that his life was at risk.
But after a year-long investigation, the DOJ came to a very different conclusion. Investigators wrote that “Albers began to slowly back the minivan out of the garage and up the driveway.”
In all, Jenison fired 13 shots and struck the teenager six times in the head, neck and torso.
Although the DOJ concluded that Jenison did not violate Albers’ civil rights, it was critical of how he handled the situation.
“The department’s decision that it cannot sue the officer who killed John Albers does not alter the fact that his loss was an unnecessary tragedy and should not be read as anything more than a determination that the department cannot prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, every element of the federal criminal statute, including will,” the statement said.
The discrepancies between Howe’s statement and the DOJ investigation were enough for Albers to file the lawsuit.
“There is no more debate about what happened the night John was killed, and that those facts contradict what Steve Howe said in his Feb. 20 statement,” Albers said.
John Albers’ death prompted several lawsuits, including two from the Kansas City media.
In 2019, Overland Park settled a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Sheila Albers for $2.3 million.
Jenison resigned from the Overland Park Police Department in March 2018. A severance package worth $70,000 was only revealed after a lawsuit from the Kansas City Star.
Another lawsuit filed by KSHB-TV lobbied the city to release a report by the Johnson County Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team (OISIT), a group made up of investigators from various law enforcement agencies.