Events over the last decade in the U.S. have triggered a contentious debate over what constitutes the “use of justifiable force” by law enforcement. Instances where the line between “justified vs. unjustified” has been crossed have ignited violence.
With the technological development of crime scene video, sometimes the difference is clear. Other times, there isn’t enough visual evidence to provide a definitive determination. Our nation of laws rests with the legal system’s the obligation to determine this difference.
One tragic shooting in Overlook Park, Kansas, seems to have defied logic. Former Overland Park Police Officer Clayton Jenison shot and killed an unarmed teenager. The event sent the country into outrage. However, as the investigation unfolded, some details emerged.
The police dash cam seemed to be damning evidence against Jenison’s claim of justified force. One camera angle showed John Albers appearing to back his family’s minivan out of the driveway.
Albers’ girlfriend had previously made a police report saying that he had said he was going to kill himself. Albers appeared to continue backing out of the driveway even after being confronted by a police officer. There was no evidence he had committed a crime.
John Albers was not a wanted suspect, nor was he deemed to be armed or dangerous. Albers was a teenager who was allegedly considering suicide, nothing more. Certainly, an intervention was in order, but what happened next seems to defy the logic of justifiable use of force.
Clayton Jenison fired two shots at the minivan. Cam footage shows that he may have struck Albers. This would account for why the teenager suddenly tromped on the gas pedal. The minivan spun uncontrollably, almost striking one police officer.
Again, what happened next continues to defy the reasonable sense that justifiable force was necessary to subdue a dangerous individual. Jenison unloaded 11 more bullets into the minivan. One of these shots killed John Albers.
He was unarmed, not deemed a dangerous threat to anyone, and was not a suspect in any crime. However, John Albers was dead. Yet again, the country was faced with the stark reality that a police officer, trusted to keep the peace, had killed an unarmed person.
This case seemed almost cut and dried. But it wasn’t. First, Albers was not a criminal. He was a junior at Blue Valley Northwest High School. The likeable teenager was a member of both the Belle Valley Northwest wrestling and soccer teams.
Albers was actively a part of a Kansas City-based soccer league for at-risk youth. His close friends insist that Albers was portrayed in a negative light to cover up what was an egregious abuse of police force. Albers was said to be “loyal”, “courageous”, and “compassionate.”
John Albers was anything but a dangerous criminal. But a police officer shot him dead as he backed his family’s minivan out of the driveway. Besides the first two shots appearing totally unnecessary, the multiple shots fired afterward were clearly negligent.
But Jenison was never charged. He was swiftly removed from the force but was handed a $70,000 severance package. Clayton Jenison was rewarded for negligent abuse of his badge. In many respects, he should stand trial for murder. John Albers’ death is terribly disturbing.
Most law enforcement personnel are dedicated and loyal public servants. A few are not. When those who abuse the badge are not held accountable, it reflects terribly on other police officers and our judicial system. Justifiable force is often necessary. In John Albers’ murder, it was not.