Federal prosecutors announced Friday they would not pursue criminal civil rights charges against a Kansas police officer who fatally shot a teenager in 2018 during a wellness check.
The Justice Department’s decision comes nearly two years after the investigation into the murder of 17-year-old John Albers, who died in a Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, sparked a national outcry over police use of excessive force.
“At this time, there is insufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer knowingly violated federal criminal civil rights statutes,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “Notably, the evidence does not clear the high bar that the Supreme Court has set to meet this standard, and therefore the Department has closed its investigation into the matter.”
Overland Park police officer, Clayton Jenison, was in the military for nearly two years at the time of the shooting. He eventually agreed to resign—with a $70,000 severance package—despite the fact that Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe cleared him of wrongdoing.
Announcing that no charges would be filed, Howe released dashcam video and said that Jenison, who said he feared for his life, was justified in his actions when he fired 13 shots.
But Albers’ parents have long disputed the police department’s story of what happened, blasting local prosecutors’ investigations as biased and lacking competence.
Despite the lack of federal charges, the Albers family said in a statement that they believe the FBI conducted a “thorough and impartial review.”
“The transparency, empathy and compassion that DOJ and FBI professionals demonstrated helped us feel supported — and that honored John,” the family said. “Again, it was not the behavior we received from our local law enforcement and city leaders that decided to insult our son.”
Albers’ parents had pushed for files in the case to be made public, which finally happened in April 2021, when the city of Overland Park released a 500-page report, including photos, video of additional dashcam footage, and an interview. was held together. Jenson after shooting. NBC affiliate KSHB in Kansas City, Missouri, also sued Overland Park for releasing those investigative files.
The files included social media posts and journal entries showing high school junior Albers battling mental health issues.
On January 20, 2018, police were called to his home after a friend expressed concern that he might be drunk and feeling suicidal, saying that he had threatened to kill himself with a knife.
At the time of the call, just before dusk, Albers was alone at home while his family went out to dinner.
Dashcam video and a neighbor’s security camera showed Jenison and another officer arriving at the home. They stayed outside for a few minutes and didn’t knock on the front door or identify themselves. Eventually, the garage door of the house opened, and Jenson unbuttoned his weapon and headed for the door as a minivan, which Albers was driving, began to back down slowly and in a straight line.
Jenson responded by aiming his weapon and shouting, “Wait, wait, wait.” Jensen, standing on the right side of the van, fired twice at Albers.
In a lawsuit filed by the family against City and Jenison, Albers argues that one or both bullets hit the teenager, “disabling her and rendering her unable to control the minivan.”
The car stalled, but then accelerated in reverse, making a U-turn in the driveway and backing up. According to the report and dashcam video, Jenison fired 11 more shots, and the minivan overtook another police car that had just arrived, and veered into neutral in the driveway of a house across the street.
An autopsy report later showed that six bullets had hit Albers. A toxicology report indicated that he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
In an interview with investigators after the shooting, Jensen said he took cover outside the house because he did not know whether Albers would “harm himself or if he also had murderous tendencies.”
The Justice Department said Friday that the focus of its review was to determine whether federal prosecutors could partially prove that Jenson deprived Albers of his constitutional rights, including “by deliberately using undue force against the individual.” was. But investigators said the federal government has no statute that criminalizes a police officer’s use of unreasonable force “if the will cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The Albers family settled their complaint against Overland Park and Jenison for $2.3 million in 2019, The Washington Post reported, although the city and Jenison did not accept liability and Overland Park said it would avoid the cost and length of a lawsuit. settled for.
NBC News contacted the Jenson and Johnson County District Attorney’s Office for comment following the Justice Department’s decision in the case.
In a joint response, the Overland Park Police Department and the City of Overland Park said their respective officers cooperated with the federal investigation.
Federal investigators noted that the decision not to charge in Albers’ death “does not change the fact that his loss was an unnecessary tragedy,” and shed light on how a federal district court overseeing the trial made the decision. pronounced that a proper jury could make the officer conclude. He used undue force when he fired the first two shots at Albers.
“The federal criminal investigation found no convincing evidence inconsistent with that conclusion,” the Justice Department said.
The Albers family responded by stating that “we cannot ignore the underlying theme of the DOJ’s statement: local officials failed their investigation, failed to bring charges to the state viable, and ignored the fact that a jury was certain. can ascertain that the officer used undue force.”
Since Albers’ death, Overland Park has changed its department and policies, creating a separate mental-health unit to answer calls and banning police shooting into a moving car.
“But there is still work to be done,” the Albers family said. “We need more crisis-intervention training for all of our officers who step up to serve us every day. We need a top-down culture of transparency and compassion in local government and law enforcement.”
Under the Biden administration, federal prosecutors have pursued federal civil rights charges against police officers in other high-profile cases, most recently against two current and two former police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, involving a raid. Which led to the death of Breonna Taylor. , a 26-year-old medical worker.
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline At 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit speakingoffsuicide.com/resources for additional resources.