Kansas City police officer Eric DeValkenaere found guilty in fatal shooting of a Black man
A Jackson County judge found Kansas City police detective Eric DeValkenaere guilty of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Cameron Lamb, a Black man.
"What we sought in this case was a just outcome and that's where we stand today," Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker told reporters shortly after the verdict was rendered by Presiding Judge J. Dale Youngs.
Donna Drake, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City Police Department, said in an email that the department acknowledged the court's decision.
"Every officer involved shooting is difficult not only for the members in the community, but also the members of the police department," she said.
The department said that DeValkenaere had been suspended pending termination as a result of his conviction.
DeValkenaere is believed to be the first Kansas City law enforcement officer since 1941 to have stood trial for the fatal shooting of a Black man. The police officer in the earlier case was acquitted.
Jackson County prosecutors argued that DeValkenaere recklessly shot Cameron Lamb on Dec. 3, 2019, as Lamb was sitting in a pickup truck and backing into his garage at 41st Street and College Avenue.
The shooting occurred not long after a police helicopter spotted a red truck chasing a purple Mustang at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour through a residential neighborhood.
Prosecutors argued that DeValkenaere acted recklessly by entering Lamb’s property without a warrant, knocking over a makeshift fence and firing his weapon within seconds of coming upon the pickup truck.
Defense lawyers contended that DeValkenaere, a 20-year veteran of the Kansas City Police Department and a member of its Violent Offender Squad when the shooting occurred, was responding to an ongoing danger and had probable cause to enter Lamb’s property.
DeValkenaere waived his right to a jury trial and the case was tried before Youngs. The four-day trial ended last week and Youngs took the case under advisement.
In finding DeValkenaere guilty on both counts with which he was charged, Youngs ruled that Lamb had an expectation of privacy on his property and that DeValkenaere and his partner, Sgt. Troy Schwalm, had no justification to enter onto the property, as both did that day. Schwalm was not charged in the case.
Delivering his verdict from the bench in a courtroom packed with supporters and family of both DeValkenaere and Lamb, Youngs said that the two plainclothes policemen had no arrest warrant, no search warrant and no probable cause to obtain either.
Neither were there exigent circumstances nor a hot pursuit that might have justified their entrance onto the property, Youngs said, noting that the car chase had ended some time earlier.
"Based on the court's review of the law and the facts, the court concludes that the backyard and particularly the carport were within the curtilage," Youngs said, referring to the area immediately surrounding a dwelling. "And the occupants demonstrated a reasonable expectation of privacy."
Youngs took about 13 minutes to read his findings of fact and conclusions of law. As he pronounced DeValkenaere guilty, DeValkenaere slumped slightly in his seat and lowered his head.
Shouts of jubilation could be heard in the courthouse hallway as the courtroom emptied, and members of Lamb's family and supporters tearfully embraced.
DeValkenaere faces a minimum statutory punishment of three years on the involuntary manslaughter conviction and a minimum statutory punishment of three years on the armed criminal action conviction.
He remains free on bond pending sentencing, which Youngs said he would set at a later date.
Altogether, the trial and convictions marked a stunning development in the strained relations between the Jackson County Prosecutor's office and the Kansas City Police Department.
Baker, the prosecutor, has accused the department of not providing a probable cause statement in the case, forcing her to take the case to a grand jury.
In an extraordinary letter addressed to Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith in April 2020, Baker said that police "hold a special place in our community" and, for that reason, they have strong protections under Missouri law.
"But officers are not entitled to a special process when they are the subject of a criminal investigation. Investigations must be neutral," she wrote. "Our system depends on this. Neutrality is especially important when you are investigating someone who works within your own ranks."
DeValkenaere's attorneys were not immediately available for comment, but they are expected to appeal the verdict.
After the verdict, S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing the Lamb family, called it "momentous" and "historic."
"These instances of justice in our system are far too rare, but there was something that happened here that was different," he said outside the courthouse.
Merritt represents the parents of three of Lamb's minor children, who have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against DeValkenaere and the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said he did not view the guilty verdicts as an "indictment broadly" of the Kansas City Police Department.
"Instead what it is is the criminal justice system," Lucas said. "The prosecutor saw a concern, the grand jury indicted, a judge found a defendant guilty today. We go through this process regularly. This is with a different class of defendant but at the same time, I know the men and women of our law enforcement community will continue to go out and do the important work to keep this city safe.”
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City released a statement saying it was "celebrating the verdict."
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