Three Years After An Officer Killed A Suicidal Teen, Law Enforcement Releases Report That Raises More Questions
from the everyone-is-innocent-but-the-dead-kid dept
Law enforcement seems to assume that any shooting officers engage in is justified. What may appear to be reckless violence by cops is just good police work, according to police. Anyone who thinks otherwise is only expressing their ignorance of police tactics and far too unconcerned about officer safety.
Public outcry following police shootings is often greeted with statements from police officials asking the public to calm down until all the facts are in. Then law enforcement officials set about burying facts, rewriting narratives, and doing everything they can to put some time and distance between them and the shooting.
A recently released report on the 2018 killing of Kansas teen John Albers appears to be thorough, at least at first glance. It’s 498 pages long, suggesting it’s a thorough documentation of the shooting of Albers by Overland Park police officer Clayton Jennison. Like far too many fatal shootings, it started with a call from someone concerned about the teen’s welfare.
This is from early reporting on the 2018 shooting.
Police had been told Albers, a junior at Blue Valley Northwest, had been taking pills and drinking heavily and had, via a FaceTime phone call, told someone he was going to stab himself. At least one of the responding officers was familiar with Albers, according to police radio traffic.
Here’s how it was described to reporters after Albers had been killed by Officer Jennison.
As officers approached the house in the 9300 block of W. 149th Terrace, the garage door opened and a vehicle came out moving “rapidly” toward one of the officers, with Albers at the wheel, according to police. The officer shot Albers, killing him. No officers were injured.
After the shooting, the vehicle — a Honda minivan — ended up in a front yard across the street, according to neighbors. It appeared to have come out of the driveway facing forward.
The dashcam video shows otherwise. The van came out of the garage in reverse and did not move “rapidly” towards the officer. Instead, it headed straight down the driveway next to Officer Jenison, who began shooting as it began moving past him. The van then swings back in a half-circle back onto the lawn, suggesting Albers has already been hit. Then it heads across the street before coming to a stop on the neighbor’s lawn.
And there’s this final insult to the public’s intelligence:
Police have not said that Albers had a weapon other than the vehicle.
If Officer Jennison was in any danger of being run over, it’s because he put himself in that position. He moved towards the van as it exited the garage and opened fire when it moved past him. His shooting of Albers resulted in the unpredictable vehicle movements that followed his initial shots. No other officer on the scene fired their weapon.
Shortly after the shooting, Police Chief Frank Donchez asked for patience. More than three years after he asked for that, the report has finally arrived. The Kansas City Star turned the report [PDF] over to a handful of experts, none of whom seem impressed by the report or its findings.
In the days after the material was released, The Star had it examined by two forensic scientists, a criminal justice professor and Paul Morrison, the former Johnson County District Attorney.
All found the investigation lacked neutrality and was missing crucial information.
“Everyone just seemed to know what had happened, and had concluded already what had happened,” said Charles Wellford, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Maryland with an extensive background reviewing homicide cases.
“There were things they could have done if they were not convinced from the get-go that this was not a chargeable action.”
“A substantial amount of that report didn’t really even deal with the shooting,” Morrison said. “It dealt with John Albers and his juvenile problems. And that, in my mind, is usually a sign that maybe somebody’s not the most neutral.”
To make room for the disparagement of the dead teen, the investigators excluded crucial information from the report, like the initial supervisor’s notes from the shooting scene and any attempts made by the crime lab to reconstruct the shootings and track bullet trajectories. The latter would have shown Jenison fired from the side of the vehicle, rather than from the rear, calling into question his assertions that the reversing van was coming towards him.
Officer Jenison also did not know who was in the van at the point he started firing. All he knew was he was checking on a suicidal teen who might have been carrying a knife. Instead of verifying any of this, he opened fire on the driver of the van simply because he chose to reverse down the driveway like anyone would when pulling out of a garage.
Jenison’s post-shooting interview was solicitous and cordial. It also occurred four days after the shooting and after the officer had been given the chance to review the recordings. His claims that he thought the van was going to hit him went unchallenged, even though the recording showed the van moving in a straight line down the driveway until its course was altered by Jenison’s shooting of the driver.
The report gives the impression the conclusion that the shooting was justified was reached before the investigation truly began, allowing investigators to work their way backwards from this supposition. The multi-agency investigation only involved other law enforcement agencies, lowering the chance of any other conclusion being reached.
As we’ve seen in other cases where shootings by officers are investigated, cops are handled very differently than anyone else who’s killed anyone, even in supposed self-defense. Officers are given hours, if not days, to review materials and prepare for questioning. All rights are immediately respected, rather than having to be invoked repeatedly by the officer being questioned. They are almost never arrested or jailed, even if probable cause exists to do so. And when cops investigate other cops, they wholeheartedly embrace the ideal of “innocent until proven guilty” in a way they never do when dealing with detained criminal suspects.
Years later, this is the sort of thing that gets handed to the public: a largely exonerative compilation of foregone conclusions spiced up with some details of the shooting victim’s prior run-ins with law enforcement. It ignores the victim’s mental health crisis for the most part, highlighting it only when it serves to portray John Albers as dangerous to others. And it fully ignores the inconvenient fact that Officer Jenison did not actually know who was in the van when he started shooting, making the details about Albers’ past troubles completely irrelevant.