Complaint against JoCo DA dismissed, but disciplinary board includes caution about accuracy

A complaint against Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe has been dismissed, but the state board that disciplines Kansas attorneys cautioned him, saying statements in news releases need to be accurate.

Sheila Albers, the mother of John Albers, who was shot and killed by a former Overland Park police officer in January 2018, filed the complaint in September 2022. She alleged Howe pushed a narrative that differed from the facts of the case as part of an effort to “paint a picture that the officer had legitimate reason to fear for his life,” she previously told The Star.

Her complaint was investigated by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, an arm of the Kansas Judicial Branch.

In a letter dated Jan. 29, the disciplinary office said the complaint was being dismissed, “though it did not find the complaint to be meritless. The committee was concerned with the conduct of the respondent and directed that he be cautioned.”

Sheila Albers said she wishes the disciplinary administrator had taken strong action.

“However, we are pleased that DA Howe was strongly cautioned from making false statements in the future,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The District Attorney of the most populous county in Kansas should not have to be reminded to speak truthfully or be reprimanded not to conflate opinion with fact,” she said. “Yet here we are.”

Howe, a Republican, said Tuesday that he was grateful for the office’s dismissal “after a careful investigation.”

A month after the fatal shooting, Howe wrote in a news release that, “Right out of the garage, the teen drove the minivan directly toward the officer in an aggressive manner.”

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that John Albers “began to slowly back the minivan out of the garage and down the driveway. As the vehicle began to move, the first officer stepped towards it.”

The disciplinary office said the Justice Department’s account “gave a more accurate description of the incident than compared to the description contained in Mr. Howe’s press release.”

“The review committee concluded, however, that Mr. Howe’s statement appeared to express an opinion justifying his decision not to charge the officer rather than a knowingly false statement of fact,” the letter said.