‘Not transparent’: Top leaders in Overland Park silent on police chief’s sudden exit

The abrupt departure of Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez has left many city and county officials scratching their heads.

Several council members said Wednesday they had not been told a reason for Donchez’s resignation, which was announced in a brief news release Tuesday evening.

The initial release from Meg Ralph, an Overland Park spokeswoman, provided no reason for his departure, saying the city “does not comment on personnel information.”

It was followed up by another release from the city Wednesday, detailing more information: Donchez submitted his resignation to City Manager Lori Curtis Luther on Tuesday, Sept. 12. And resignation letters are personnel records and are not available to the public.

It also stated Donchez did not have an employment contract with the city and did not receive a severance package. It said he is eligible to receive standard post-employment benefits.

The city’s statement Wednesday also described an encounter Monday between Donchez and the mother of a teen shot and killed by Overland Park police in 2018. But Ralph declined to say how that incident might be connected with Donchez’s resignation.

City and county leaders reached by The Star Wednesday expressed surprise about the resignation and concern about the city’s lack of transparency.

“I thought he was a good police chief and served the city well. I thought he was professional,” Councilman Paul Lyons told The Star. “I hope he resigned for a positive reason.”

Councilman Faris Farassati was upset by the lack of information coming from City Hall, arguing that elected officials shouldn’t be left to “deal with rumors.”

“This is not transparent. The community needs to know. This is a publicly funded, extremely important position,” Farassati said. “We need to be transparent and, other than confidential personnel information, we should provide an explanation.”

Johnson County Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick said she was “surprised and taken aback” by the announcement. “That’s not usually how people resign, so suddenly. I am as dumbfounded as everyone else.”

The Star’s attempts to reach Donchez, by phone and at his home, were unsuccessful on Wednesday.

Luther and Mayor Curt Skoog did not respond to requests for comment.

The Overland Park Police Department is facing scrutiny as four officers have been placed on paid administrative leave for more than a year; the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office is investigating criminal allegations involving a police nonprofit where three of them have served as directors.

The city’s follow-up email Wednesday, which came after multiple requests for comment, detailed a “heated exchange” Donchez had Monday at the Overland Park City Council meeting with Sheila Albers, the mother of John Albers, who was fatally shot by an officer on Jan. 20, 2018.

The shooting has continued to prompted criticism in the years since 17-year-old Albers, who was experiencing a mental health crisis, was killed. Activists called for the removal of Donchez.

The shooting resulted in a $2.3 million wrongful death settlement and a $70,000 severance paid out to Clayton Jenison, the officer who shot the teen. He was allowed to resign under “ordinary circumstances,” according to a form submitted to the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training, which licenses police officers in the state.

Late Monday night, Sheila Albers sent an email to Luther and Skoog recounting her conversation hours earlier with Donchez. She had asked him about the CPOST form and an interview where he said Jenison had quit before he could be reprimanded or encouraged to leave. According to CPOST records, Jenison left the department on March 4, 2018, about six weeks after he shot John Albers.

“I pushed Donchez hard on the lies he told in that interview and his response was asking me if I have ever lied before. I told him I have not lied in a professional setting like that,” Sheila Albers wrote to Luther and Skoog. “He then said, ‘I am sure you and Steve tell everyone you were the best parents.’”

She replied, “John struggled with his mental health.”

According to her email, “Donchez replied, ‘And you left him at his time of need.’”

In her email, she claimed Donchez told her that “he will keep being the Chief until he retires and I can keep hoping he is not.”

She ended the email by saying she said what needed to be said and did not need the city to do anything.

Email from Sheila Albers to Overland Park's city manager and mayor by The Kansas City Star on Scribd

On Wednesday, she said she was “excited that Overland Park has the opportunity to find a forward-thinking chief of police.”

Donchez began his law enforcement career in 1981 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and eventually became police chief there. He later worked as chief of police in Davenport, Iowa, before Overland Park hired him in 2014.

The city has appointed Deputy Chief Simon Happer to serve as interim police chief. Officials said the city will begin a national search to hire a new police chief “as soon as possible.”

The Star’s Anna Spoerre and Andrea Klick contributed to this story.