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Kansas City police officer says he saw Cameron Lamb raise a gun before he fatally shot him

DeValkenaere police shooting
Rich Sugg/rsugg@kcstar.com
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Eric DeValkenaere gave emotional testimony Wednesday about what led up to the shooting of Cameron Lamb, a Black man, who was backing his pickup truck into his garage. The trial began Monday morning in Jackson County Circuit Court. DeValkenaere is charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the death of Lamb on Dec. 3, 2019.

Prosecutors say Eric DeValkenaere acted carelessly and recklessly in going onto Lamb’s property without probable cause or a warrant because there was no obvious crime in progress at that point.

The Kansas City police detective charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Dec. 3, 2019, shooting death of Cameron Lamb, a Black man, took the witness stand in his own defense on Wednesday and testified that he fired into Lamb’s red pickup truck when he saw Lamb reaching for a gun and raising it to his chest.

Occasionally choking up as he described what happened that day, Eric DeValkenaere said that Lamb, who was backing into his garage, had ignored commands from a fellow detective to stop the pickup truck, get out of it and put his hands up.

The other detective, Troy Schwalm, was positioned on the driver’s side of the truck while DeValkenaere was positioned on the passenger side. The two plainclothes detectives had been working in the neighborhood when another detective alerted them to a high-speed chase through a residential street involving a red pickup truck and purple Mustang.

A police helicopter tracked the red pickup to Lamb’s residence at 41st Street and College Avenue, where Schwalm and DeValkenaere converged, guns drawn, and headed to the back of the house where the truck was backing up into a basement garage. DeValkenaere knocked over a makeshift barbecue grill barrier meant to block the back from view as he made his way there.

Prosecutors say DeValkenaere, who is also charged with armed criminal action, acted carelessly and recklessly in going onto Lamb’s property without probable cause or a warrant because there was no obvious crime in progress at that point.

But on the witness stand, DeValkenaere insisted he had a duty to investigate a potentially dangerous situation and to ensure Schwalm’s safety, who had arrived at the property just before he did.

“I’m thinking, 'I can’t let this happen, I can’t let him shoot Troy,'” DeValkenaere testified.

Schwalm testified on Monday that although he did not see a gun in Lamb’s hand, he believed DeValkenaere saved his life.

When DeValkenaere was asked by his attorney just before he described shooting Lamb how many times in his 20-year police career he had shot someone, his voice caught before he replied, “Twice.”

DeValkenaere police shooting
Rich Sugg/rsugg@kcstar.com
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During trial Wednesday at the Jackson County Courthouse, prosecutor Tim Dollar questions DeValkenaere.

Under cross-examination by prosecutor Tim Dollar, who argued that DeValkenare had no probable cause to believe a crime had been committed other than a traffic violation, DeValkenaere responded that there was “plenty of reasonable suspicion that a crime was afoot."

The case marks the first instance that a Kansas City police officer has been charged in the fatal shooting of a Black man. Lamb was 26.

Lamb’s mother, Laurie Bey, briefly testified as a prosecution witness on Tuesday. She identified a Christmas photo of Lamb and his three young sons posing together with her.

Also testifying Tuesday was Roberta Merritt, who shared the house with Lamb. Merritt told the court she saw Lamb’s gun on the third step of a staircase leading down to the garage on the morning preceding the shooting, which took place at around 12:30 in the afternoon. Prosecutors have intimated that police planted that gun on the floor of the garage beneath Lamb’s lifeless left arm after DeValkenaere shot him.

But under cross-examination, Merritt was asked why she had not mentioned any gun on the staircase in a statement to police later that day, in a second statement to lawyers and investigators 11 days later, and in a third statement about a month later. She said that as she recalled the events of that day, things became clearer to her.

Prosecutors also produced evidence that when Lamb’s pockets were emptied out at the morgue, two bullets were found among their contents. But when crime scene technicians previously performed an on-the-scene search of Lamb’s pockets after he was pronounced dead, no bullets were found.

Plainclothes officers  

DeValkenaere and Schwalm were members of the Violent Offender Squad and were working the streets in plain clothes and using unmarked vehicles on the day of the shooting. Shortly after noon, Detective Adam Hill, another member of the Violent Offender Squad, saw a red pickup truck traveling at up to 90 miles an hour chasing a purple Mustang. At the time, DeValkenaere and his partner were attending to a vehicular crash in the area that left a passenger severely injured.

Earlier that day, Lamb and his on-and-off girlfriend had argued and Lamb had slapped her. Lamb later went to her uncle’s house to explain what had happened, then returned to his house and began removing her belongings to the front of the house.

As the two continued arguing, the girlfriend got into her car, a purple Mustang, and Lamb took off in pursuit in his red pickup truck. A police helicopter observed a red pickup headed in the same area but in a different direction.

The truck went through a parking lot where DeValkenaere was parked. By then it no longer appeared to be pursuing the Mustang. DeValkenaere and Schwalm, nevertheless, headed to where the helicopter said the truck was backing into a driveway.

Prosecutors say because there was no apparent crime in progress at the time, DeValkenaere should never have entered the property without a warrant or probable cause. They say there was no probable cause because no one called 911 about the chase and no police officer requested that a marked police vehicle make contact with Lamb, which would have been standard procedure.

But in her opening statement, defense attorney Molly Hastings said that a “volatile and dangerous situation” had unfolded.

“His training told him he had a duty to investigate a potentially dangerous situation, and he had an obligation to protect his partner,” Hastings said of DeValkenaere.

DeValkenaere has waived his right to a jury trial, and the case is being tried before Jackson County Presiding Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs. Youngs recessed the trial after DeValkenaere’s testimony, which lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours.

The trial is set to resume on Friday after a break for Veterans Day on Thursday. It’s expected to wrap up Friday.

A ruling on DeValkenaere’s guilt or innocence is not expected right away as Youngs is likely to take the case under advisement.

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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