Judge says TV station’s open records lawsuit against Overland Park in Albers case can go forward

Albers severance

A lawyer for the city argued the TV station's petition violated state rules, in part, by being too long, but a Johnson County judge ruled for KSHB, saying that the extra time editing the petition would simply drag things out. Above, a still from dash cam video on the night in January 2018 that John Albers was shot and killed in the driveway of his family home in Overland Park.

A Johnson County judge on Monday handed Kansas City, Mo., TV station KSHB a victory in court, ruling that an open records lawsuit against the city of Overland Park regarding the 2018 police shooting of teenager John Albers can move forward.

Judge Robert Wonnell decided to allow the suit filed by KSHB and its parent company, Scripps Media Inc., to continue without disruption by denying the city’s motion to dismiss.

The TV station’s suit seeks the report on the police investigation of the shooting, from the Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team.

Clayton Jenison was the officer on the scene at the Albers home on January 2018. Jenison had responded to requests to check on Albers. Albers was killed after Jenison fired into the family minivan as Albers attempted to drive it out of the garage.

Jenison subsequently left the force, but questions remain about the shooting report, which Albers’ family has sought to be made public.

KSHB’s suit is separate from one filed by The Kansas City Star that is also seeking records related to Albers’ killing and the city’s subsequent decision to give Jenison a severance agreement.

Attorney Brett Runyon argued Monday for the city that KSHB’s petition, which runs to 61 pages, violates Kansas statutory rules that say petitions should be “short and plain.”

The lawsuit is not only long but also wanders into arguments from other cases, he said.

“It’s unfair to the city to have to deal with theses 60-page petitions for one count against one defendant,” Runyon said, adding that the state’s rules should be enforced. “This one just is across the line.”

If the motion had been approved, the station could have been allowed to refile a shorter version of its claim.

However Bernie Rhodes, representing the station, said the law does not require a literal interpretation of the procedural rules. The length does not make it more difficult to understand the suit, he said.

Judge Wonnell sided with the station, saying the extra time spent editing the petition to the satisfaction of both parties would just drag things out.

“Frankly, counsel, we need to get to the issue of whether or not the (open records) request is appropriate or allowable under Kansas law. We need to get to that issue in a just, speedy and inexpensive manner,” he said.

In the meantime, another Johnson County judge is weighing the Star’s suit, which seeks to disclose the city’s severance agreement with Jenison.

The city is expected to file a response to the suit by March 30.