What were the exact circumstances around a severance payment the city of Overland Park paid to the police officer who shot teenager John Albers two years ago?
The public may soon find out, if a Johnson County judge decides in favor of a lawsuit seeking full disclosure of the matter.
Kansas City Star sues city
Arguments for and against full disclosure of the settlement agreement for former police officer Clayton Jenison have flown through Johnson County District Court in recent weeks.
The latest is a motion brought by The Kansas City Star newspaper seeking partial judgment in favor of opening the records. The city filed a motion of its own last month, repeating its position that the settlement is a personnel record that is exempt from Kansas open records law.
The Star brought suit in October, after the city initially denied its request for a full record of Jenison’s $70,000 payout.
Jenison’s departure from the Overland Park police force followed the fatal shooting of Albers in January 2018.
Police had been called to check on Albers’ well-being. Jenison ended up firing 13 times in the direction of the family van as Albers attempted to drive it out of the garage, killing Albers.
Albers’ parents have since won a court settlement in their own separate suit against the city but have been searching for answers about the severance payment since it came to light in July, more than two years after it was finalized by the city.
Conflicting claims cited
City officials have refused to release the full contents of the severance agreement.
In a brief on behalf of disclosure, Star attorney Bernie Rhodes said that even though the public now knows about the existence of the severance and its amount, the public still has an overriding interest in learning whether Overland Park officials told the truth about the circumstances of how the agreement came to be determined.
Conflicting statements from Police Chief Frank Donchez and Mayor Carl Gerlach are cited in the Star’s briefs.
“The truthfulness of these statements – and the veracity of the Chief of Police of the second largest city in Kansas – are in serious question,” Rhodes wrote.
Specifically, Donchez told a TV interviewer in February 2019 that Jenison was not persuaded to leave and left the force before any discussion of a settlement could be had, according to the suit.
Jenison was considered an employee until March 4, 2018, but the agreement was executed Feb. 16, the motion says.
Donchez’s remarks also seem to conflict with a statement by Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach. At a press conference this past August, Gerlach said the city negotiated the settlement in order to remove Jenison because “we did not want him as an officer.”
The city still has a chance to rebut the Star’s request for partial judgment. Once that happens, a judge will decide which arguments hold water.
District Court Judge Rhonda Mason has been assigned to the case.