Your Johnson County District Attorney election primer

The Johnson County District Attorney candidates Steve how and Zach Thomas participate in the Shawnee Mission Post's candidate forum. File photo.

Advance in-person voting began on Oct. 17 in Johnson County, and Election Day is less than two weeks away on Nov. 3. As residents head to the polls to cast their ballots for the Johnson County District Attorney, we’ve put together an election primer to give people an easy way to find out where the candidates stand on the issues.

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Republican incumbent Steve Howe is one of the candidates running for Johnson County District Attorney. File photo.

Who’s on the ballot

The Johnson County District Attorney is a contested race with two candidates: Republican incumbent Steve Howe and Democrat Zach Thomas. Voters can lookup a sample ballot via the Johnson County Election Office here.

Candidate questionnaires

Earlier this month, the Post published the candidates’ responses to the questionnaires we developed with reader input. The five questionnaire items are linked below:

Question #1: After teenager John Albers was shot and killed by Overland Park police officer Clayton Jennison in 2018, Jennison was cleared of wrongdoing and received a severance package from the city of Overland Park. However, the city later settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Albers’ family for $2.3 million. This has attracted intense scrutiny of the process for investigating officer-involved shootings. What do Johnson County and law-enforcement agencies here need to do to ensure the public trusts investigations of police shootings? Read answers here.

Democrat Zach Thomas is running for Johnson County District Attorney against Republican incumbent Steve Howe. File photo.

Question #2: The Black Lives Matter movement has focused on the actions of police departments and their relationships with minority communities. What is the appropriate role for the District Attorney’s office to guarantee equitable justice in Johnson County? Read answers here.

Question #3: How would/does your office ensure that victims, their families or others affected by the justice system are fully informed of the actions that are being taken in their case? What role do you allow them to play? Read answers here.

Question #4: Do Kansas open records and open meetings laws give the public adequate access to the investigatory actions and decision-making procedures of law enforcement, the district attorney and the courts? Please explain your response. Read answers here.

Question #5: 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. Read answers here.

Candidate forums

The Post hosted in-person, socially-distanced forums for the Johnson County District Attorney race. A recorded video of the forum can be found below, and topics covered are noted below the video.

  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. 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