Parts of a controversial $70,000 severance arrangement given to an officer who fatally shot teenager John Albers in 2018 were under a non-disclosure agreement, Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach acknowledged Friday. But Gerlach defended the arrangement and said the city has been working to improve police crisis training and mental health response.
Gerlach held a press conference Friday morning and released a 525-page document that included a timeline and various other documents about the Albers case. However, the investigative reports by the district attorney and police were not included.
That concerned Sheila Albers, John’s mother.
“You can create a packet that’s enormous and is full of nothing,” she said. But the city still has not shared the report from the Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team nor the separation agreement with the shooter, former officer Clayton Jenison.
“No law prevents them from releasing either one of those documents,” she said.
Police officials earlier said that Jenison left for personal reasons and too quickly for an agreement to be reached.
“If somebody is leaving for personal reasons why did they need cash and a disclosure agreement?” Sheila Albers said.
The latest release of documents follows a city council executive session Monday night in which council members received and discussed the document. Much of the information was already known because of a lawsuit the Albers family filed after their son’s death. At that same meeting, social justice activists seeking police transparency frequently interrupted the city council’s proceedings, frustrated at the lack of public comments.
Sheila Albers attended the meeting but did not attempt to speak and later told the Post she was uncomfortable interrupting the council’s business but felt “moved” by other coming “to support John.”
Police went to the Albers home Jan. 20, 2018, to do a welfare check on John, who had been struggling with mental health issues. But the incident ended in John’s death, after Jenison fired into his moving car. Police dash cam video showed the family’s minivan driven by John exiting the home’s garage. In the video, Jenison can be heard yelling, “Stop!” while firing a series of gunshots at the vehicle.
The Albers settled a lawsuit since then. But questions resurfaced after it was discovered that the city had paid Jenison a severance package. City officials previously said Jenison resigned for personal reasons, with no mention of the payment.
Sheila Albers and Councilmember Faris Farassati have since pressed for a full report from the city on the payout, and the reason it was not widely disclosed.
Gerlach repeated today the reasoning he has given previously —that the severance was a decision by City Manager Bill Ebel that he supported and that the majority of council members knew about when Ebel told them about it in April, 2018, a few months after Albers’ killing.
In his remarks Friday, Gerlach expressed sympathy with the Albers family and pledged that the city will continue to respond.
“This is not something that any city wants to happen. Our goal now is to make sure we can make changes so this never happens again,” he said.
Still, few new details were forthcoming regarding the investigations or about the exact circumstances of the severance negotiation. Gerlach said city officials had assumed the Albers family knew about the payment because of documents requested by Mark Schmid, who they were told was a family friend.
The city was also reticent because of a then-pending lawsuit and the threat of other legal action, Gerlach said, and the investigations showed they didn’t have enough grounds for firing Jenison. If they wrongly fired him, he could have been eventually reinstated by the civil services board — a result the city wanted to avoid, Gerlach emphasized.
“Two days after the shooting, we heard there was going to be a lawsuit. Based on that, a lot of communication shut down. We would have liked to be more communicative with the Albers family,” he said.
Gerlach stressed that the city has taken actions since then to improve its approach to mental health 911 calls. The city will increase its mental health first-responders and crisis training for police, and has added a mental health citizen task force. The police department also has changed its policy on shooting into moving vehicles.
However, Gerlach said the severance offering was a decision made by Ebel, who was not present Friday to answer questions at the press conference.
Asked whether the city should change its policy to allow more input from councilmembers about any future severance offered to police, Gerlach said, “I would hesitate because now, all of the sudden, you’re going to move politics into making personnel decisions. I think we’re seeing some of that right now,” with council members who said they didn’t know of the severance even though they were at the executive session where it was discussed, he said.
Gerlach declined to give an opinion on whether the former city policy on shooting into vehicles was flawed.
“I’m a layman. I’m not even a lawyer. I’m a marketing guy,” he said. “You’re asking me to speculate on an opinion that is an uneducated opinion. That will do nothing but get everybody in trouble.”