Inside the investigation of an officer who killed a teen threatening suicide

Experts say the probe missed key steps and favored the officer’s perception of events

The entire investigative file of an officer-involved shooting in Overland Park, Kan., was released, giving insight into how police investigated another officer. (Video: The Washington Post)

Update: The Justice Department announced Sept. 9, 2022 that it would not file federal criminal civil rights charges against Officer Jenison.

When 17-year-old John Albers posted threats of suicide on social media in January 2018, worried friends called 911 for help. The high school student was backing his family minivan out of the garage when he was shot 13 times by an Overland Park, Kan., police officer who responded to the call. Within a month, the prosecutor in Johnson County, Kan., Steve Howe, declared that the fatal shooting was justified and charges would not be filed.

An unarmed teen driver is killed by police, followed by a year with few answers

Every year in America, police fatally shoot about 1,000 people. In each case, police — often from the same department — investigate the officer, and it’s rare that details of the investigation are made public. But in the case of the death of Albers, something extremely unusual happened: the city of Overland Park released the entire police investigative file, after being sued by KSHB-TV. In this case, the Overland Park police did not investigate their own officer. Instead, Johnson County launches an Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation Team after each such incident, using officers from other departments in the county.

Written reports and photos from the investigation were made public, as well as videos, including dash-cam recordings that captured the shooting and the police interview with Clayton Jenison, the officer who shot Albers and said he feared he’d be struck by the van.

The nearly 500-page file revealed the investigation was concluded in six days. The Washington Post provided it to five law enforcement experts, veterans of policing, use-of-force investigations and prosecutions. All five found flaws with the investigation, and several said investigators approached the case favoring the perception of the officer, a stance the experts said is common in such cases. The Post’s analysis found steps missing from the investigative report, such as scene diagrams, that some experts said are typically performed in officer-involved shooting investigations.

The Post also created a 3D reconstruction to show Jenison’s position at each of the moments he fired at Albers. The reconstruction was based on available evidence. It used a combination of drone flyovers, laser scanned geometry and low-resolution dashboard cameras to recreate the incident within a reasonable margin of error. Jenison was close to the van when it first backed out of the garage, and then briefly in the path of the van after it spun around, but he moved out of the van’s path each time and then fired, videos included with the file and The Post reconstruction show.

Immediately after the shooting, Jenison said “I thought he was going to run me over.” He later told investigators, “From my memory, it felt it was going fast enough to be a threat and to cause bodily harm to me.” District Attorney Howe noted that officers are entitled to use deadly force “if they reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to themselves or someone else.”

After he shot and killed an unarmed teen driver, a Kansas police officer was paid a $70,000 severance

Ed Obayashi, a California sheriff’s deputy who trains police in conducting investigations of officer-involved shootings, reviewed the case file and said that “the most glaring flaw of the entire investigation is the interview [of Jenison]. All they did was one short interview,” lasting less than 45 minutes. He said a follow-up interview, with questions developed from the advancing investigation, is necessary in every case. “We always go back to the witnesses and reinterview them. There’s no reason the officer wouldn’t consent to a follow-up,” Obayashi said.

In 2020, two years after the shooting, the Justice Department announced it had launched its own investigation of Jenison’s killing of Albers.

Shawn Reynolds, the leader of the investigation as a former deputy chief in Olathe, Kan., and now the police chief in Temple, Tex., declined to discuss the investigation, as did Howe, the district attorney of Johnson County. Presented with a summary of The Post’s findings, Howe said in an email that “many of your conclusions are factually incorrect” but said he could not elaborate because of the ongoing federal investigation, which does not prohibit Howe from discussing the local investigation.

Detectives involved in the case did not respond or would not speak to The Post, nor would anyone from the Johnson County crime lab. Jenison and his lawyer also declined to comment.

The Post took the police investigative file, dash-cam videos, expert analysis, interviews with the Albers family and the 3D reconstruction to create an inside look into how police investigated one of their own. Watch the film above for a deep dive into the case.

More on policing in America

The Washington Post’s investigation into policing in America has been ongoing since 2015, when The Post began logging every fatal shooting by an on-duty police officer in the United States.

The hidden cost of police misconduct: The Post collected data on nearly 40,000 payments at 25 of the nation’s largest police and sheriff’s departments within the past decade to uncover thousands of police officers whose alleged repeated misconduct cost taxpayers $1.5 billion.

Video: No-knock raids, considered one of the most dangerous and intrusive policing tactics, have been at the center of a debate in recent years over police use of force. At least 22 people have been killed by police nationwide carrying out no-knock warrants since 2015, according to a Post investigation.

Podcast: Hosted by Jenn Abelson and Nicole Dungca, “Broken Doors” is a six-part investigative podcast about how no-knock warrants are deployed in the American justice system — and what happens when accountability is flawed at every level.

Curbing crime: A crime-reduction strategy abandoned by Louisville police after the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor has since spread to other major U.S. cities, gaining favor with police chiefs for its potential to reduce violent crime despite its ties to the case that sparked widespread calls for police reform.

Community oversight: Police nationwide have frequently defied efforts to impose civilian oversight and, in turn, undermined the ability of communities to hold law enforcement accountable, according to a Post investigation