2020 candidate forum: Johnson County District Attorney race

The candidate forum for the Johnson County District Attorney race on Wednesday evening had a spirited back-and-forth at times, as incumbent District Attorney Steve Howe and challenger Zach Thomas sparred over issues facing Johnson County’s justice system.

Equitable justice for communities of color, highly scrutinized police shootings such as the death of John Albers in 2018, and over-incarceration of residents with mental health issues and drug addictions were just a handful of subjects raised by the Shawnee Mission Post and readers.

District Attorney Steve Howe

Below is the list of questions posed by the Post staff and readers, including the timestamps. The video of the forum can be viewed on the Post’s Facebook page and is also embedded below.

  1. In your opinion, what is the most urgent challenge facing the District Attorney’s Office in Johnson County? 5:00
  2. Describe what you believe to be the proper role and parameters of the District Attorney’s Office to communicate to the public regarding criminal investigations and charging decisions? 9:42
  3. After teenager John Albers was shot and killed by Overland Park Police Officer Clayton Jenison in 2018, Jenison was cleared from wrongdoing and received a severance package from the City of Overland Park. The city later settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Albers’s family for $2.3 million. But then, in the past week, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas have announced a federal civil rights investigation into Albers’s killing. All this has attracted intense scrutiny and sparked questions about the process for investigating officer-involved shootings. What do Johnson County and law enforcement agencies here need to do to ensure the public trusts the investigations into police shootings? 13:48
  4. Zach Thomas

    How will you address issues of racial bias both in policing in Johnson County and in the justice system more broadly, including in the District Attorney’s Office? 19:43

  5. The Black Lives Matter movement has focused on the actions of police departments and their relationships with communities of color, both locally in the Kansas City metro but around the country as well. What is the appropriate role for the District Attorney’s Office to meet with these communities and guarantee equitable justice in Johnson County? 23:55
  6. (From a reader) I am an outpatient therapist and I am very concerned about the over-incarceration of those facing mental health issues, addiction and other issues that may need treatment and not imprisonment. What will you do to help this population of people going through the justice system in Johnson County? 28:22
  7. What are two measures you would initiate to improve Johnson County’s juvenile justice system?  33:17
  8. (From a reader concerned by remarks from President Trump telling his supporters to monitor election polls) What, if any, role does the District Attorney’s Office play in keeping Johnson Countians safe — that is, physically safe — going to the polls on Nov. 3? Does the District Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement agencies in Johnson County have any role in keeping Johnson Countians safe on Election Day? 37:38