Two on Overland Park council want answers about severance payment to officer who killed teen

Two Overland Park city council members are demanding a fact-finding meeting this week with police officials to explain why the city quietly paid $70,000 in severance to the former police officer who shot and killed a troubled teenager backing out of his driveway in 2018.

Councilmembers Scott Hamblin and Faris Farassati have asked for more details on the severance payment to be able to provide a better explanation to the public, Hamblin said. He said he would like a council committee meeting or an executive session separate from the regular city council meeting.

The city council meets tonight, but no executive session is on the agenda. Mayor Carl Gerlach said the city is seeking legal advice on whether such a session can be held.

Executive sessions are closed to the public, often to discuss personnel matters and lawsuits. But if an executive session is held, Hamblin said he’d like it to end in a clearer explanation to the public about the payment. “The public deserves transparency,” he said.

The officer involved, Clayton Jenison, had been called to the home of John Albers, 17, to investigate his well-being. But the incident ended with the officer firing 13 shots at Albers’ van as he backed out of the family garage.

Jenison was later cleared of wrongdoing, but Albers’ family later settled a lawsuit against the city for $2.3 million.

Hamblin, who was not on the council at the time, said the issue merits a deeper look because the payment apparently conflicts with statements officials made at the time that Jenison left quickly without time for severance negotiations to be set.

City spokesman Sean Reilly confirmed that Jenison was paid $81,000 after his departure from the force. Of that, $70,000 was severance and the rest was for pay and unused vacation and comp time. The payment was made about two years ago but only recently became public after reporting by the Kansas City Star.

Sheila Albers, John’s mother, called out Police Chief Frank Donchez, saying he “has lied, point blank,” about the Jenison’s departure and lack of severance negotiations.

“If you’re engaged in a conversation about payout then you should be engaging in conversation with him about a reprimand or termination. So I have called out the chief of police’s integrity publicly,” she said. Donchez has so far not responded.

The payment shows that policing reforms and citizen oversight are needed, she added. For example, City Manager Bill Ebel’s authority to approve expenditures under $100,000 without a council okay should be reduced, she said.

Councilmember Paul Lyons, who is chairman of the council’s public safety committee, said he knew about the severance package but not the amount. “I understand the tragic situation her family went through,” Lyons said. “I can understand her perspective on this and why she would think it was not the right thing to do.”

But since Jenison could not continue as an effective officer in Overland Park once his name was known, a severance to help him provide for his family between jobs is a reasonable and common action, Lyons said. Making a confidential employee agreement public could have resulted in a suit by Jenison at a time when there was also a lawsuit in play by the Albers, he said.

The severance questions is another case where Ebel’s financial power has been discussed recently involving the police. A few weeks ago Hamblin and Farassati also asked for a reconsideration of Ebel’s decision to delay pay increases for city employees, including police, and pushed for hazard pay for first responders.

The city charter sets out that authority for Ebel on personnel issues without bringing in the city council, Lyons said, adding that he doesn’t believe it was necessary for Ebel to tell council members about the severance.

“I’m comfortable with what our city manager does. I’ve always felt he does what’s in the best interest of the city,” Lyons said. “There’s information that would be nice to make public but because of all kinds of reasons dealing with state laws and confidentiality issues and liability issues we have to be careful on how we disclose information to the public.”