Kansas City, MO – A Kansas City police detective who fatally shot a suspect he said had pointed a gun at another officer was convicted of manslaughter on Friday.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs found Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) Detective Eric DeValkenaere, 43, guilty of armed criminal action and second-degree involuntary manslaughter on Nov. 19 after a four-day bench trial, The Kansas City Star reported.
Investigators said the suspect, 26-year-old Cameron Lamb, was found with his left hand hanging out the window of his truck after he was fatally shot, KSHB reported.
Lamb’s gun was lying on the ground beneath his hand, police said.
Prosecutors suggested throughout the trial that the firearm and ammunition could have been planted by police, KCTV reported.
Youngs concluded Det. DeValkenaere and his partner, KCPD Sergeant Troy Schwalm, should never have been on the private property where the shooting took place because they were not arresting Lamb and didn’t have a warrant, according to KCTV.
The shooting took place in the backyard of the property, and exceeded the scope of where the officers should have gone without exigent circumstances or a warrant.
Exigent circumstances allow for police to enter property without a warrant if they are in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing suspect.
However, the judge determined exigent circumstances did not apply, because the high-speed chase Lamb had been involved in shortly before the shooting ended when Lamb got to the property and tried to back into a garage.
“When the defendant followed Sgt. Schwalm into the backyard of 4154 College and engaged Cameron Lamb, ultimately shooting and killing him, he did so without considering or being aware of the substantial and unjustifiable risks associated with this conduct, including but not limited to, fact that Sgt. Schwalm and he were unlawfully on the property that they were both escalating a situation that previously had deescalated and that their actions created or exacerbated the risk,” Youngs ruled.
During the trial, which began on Nov. 8, defense attorney Dawn Parsons argued Det. DeValkenaere was doing his job when he tried to make contact with Lamb, KCTV reported.
Parsons noted Lamb was driving between 60 and 90 miles per hour and was heading into oncoming traffic at times during the chase – behavior she said was just as potentially deadly as a bullet.
The incident began at approximately 12:20 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2019, when the KCPD received a report of a domestic disturbance in the area of College Avenue and East 35th Street, KSHB reported at the time.
The suspect, later identified as Lamb, was allegedly speeding down the road in his red truck, chasing a purple Ford Mustang when police first spotted him.
A KCPD helicopter tracked him from above as he drove to the 4100-block of College Avenue and stopped outside a home, KSHB reported.
He was still inside the truck, backing into a subterranean garage, when Det. DeValkenaere and Sgt. Schwalm approached him from opposite directions.
Although they were both wearing plain clothes, they were also wearing ballistic vests emblazoned with the word “police,” KSHB reported.
As they were closing in, KCPD Detective Eric DeValkenaere allegedly spotted Lamb pointing a gun at Sgt. Schwalm, police said.
Det. DeValkenaere fired four rounds through the suspect’s windshield, hitting Lamb twice, The Kansas City Star reported.
Lamb’s left hand was hanging out the truck window after the fatal shooting and a gun was on the ground outside the window, investigators said.
“Eric did what any reasonable officer would do,” Parsons told the court, according to The Kansas City Star. “He shot Mr. Lamb to save Troy’s life.”
Parsons argued police had reasonable suspicion and a duty to investigate due to the reckless way Lamb was chasing the other vehicle prior to the confrontation with officers.
She said the officers did not need consent or a warrant to go onto the property due to the “totality of the circumstances,” according to The Kansas City Star.
Retired Springfield Assistant Police Chief Steven Ijames testified during the trial as an expert on police practices.
Ijames told the court Det. DeValkenaere had “reasonable suspicion” and acted appropriately by going onto private property with the intent of investigating a possible criminal offense, according to The Kansas City Star.
Prosecutors claimed police violated Lamb’s rights under the Fourth Amendment, KCTV reported.
They further alleged that Lamb, who was right-handed, only had partial use of his left hand due to a prior injury, according to The Kansas City Star.
But orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Clymer testified during the trial that Lamb would still have likely been able to use his left hand to fire the weapon, KCTV reported.
Assistant Prosecutor Dion Sankar told the court Det. DeValkenaere’s behavior was “reckless,” according to The Kansas City Star.
“The state of Missouri finds it absolutely unreasonable that he did this with a loaded gun,” Sankar declared. “We find it unreasonable because there was no reason to enter the private residence with a gun, because there was no pressing reason pressing him to move. That was his choice.”
Prosecutors further alleged the gun belonging to Lamb was planted on the ground by police, and claimed two bullets found inside Lamb’s pockets at the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office had not been photographed among the items removed from his pockets at the crime scene, The Kansas City Star reported.
Roberta Merritt, who lived at the home with Lamb, testified that Lamb actually kept the gun on a stairway that led down to a basement near the garage.
Despite being questioned numerous times about the shooting, Merritt never mentioned anything about where Lamb generally kept his gun, defense attorney Molly Hastings pointed out.
Merritt’s story changed only after she started talking to prosecutors and civil investigators, Hastings told the court.
Youngs concluded Det. DeValkenaere and Sgt. Schwalm were not acting in self-defense and said they were the initial aggressors during the incident, according to KCTV.
Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund President Jason Johnson, whose organization helped fund Det. DeValkenaere’s defense, said he was disappointed and shocked by the veteran officer’s conviction, The Kansas City Star reported.
“Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s politically-motivated prosecution sets a dangerous precedent,” he said in a statement. “Police officers are not above the law but they are entitled to be held to the same standard as all citizens, not one based on political expediency.”
The KCPD confirmed Det. DeValkenaere, a highly-decorated, 20-year veteran of the force, has been suspended without pay pending his firing, KCTV reported.
“Every officer involved shooting is difficult not only for the members in the community, but also the members of the police department. We acknowledge the Court’s decision,” the KCPD said in a statement.
Det. DeValkenaere faces a minimum of three years on each charge, KCUR reported.
He faces a maximum of 15 years for the armed criminal action offense, which must be served consecutively to the underlying conviction, according to KSHB.
His sentencing date has not been set.
Det. DeValkenaere’s attorneys are expected to file an appeal, KCUR reported.