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Trial ends for Kansas City police officer charged with fatally shooting Cameron Lamb, a Black man

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Jill Toyoshiba/jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com
The Kansas City Star
Eric DeValkenaere listens to testimony on Friday during the final day of his trial in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Prosecutors contend that once a high-speed car chase ended, there were no urgent circumstances requiring Eric DeValkenaere and his partner to trespass on private property with guns drawn without first obtaining a search warrant.

A Jackson County judge said he would announce his verdict no earlier than next week in the involuntary manslaughter trial of a Kansas City police detective who fatally shot Cameron Lamb, a 26-year-old Black man, in December 2019.

Judge J. Dale Youngs, who heard the case without a jury, said at the conclusion of the three-and-a-half-day trial that he would take the matter under advisement.

“I will do my best not to delay,” he said, adding that he could rule as early as next week “but it might not even be next week.”

The closely watched case marks the first time a Kansas City law enforcement official has stood trial for the fatal shooting of a Black man in nearly eight decades.

The defendant, Eric DeValkenaere, is also charged with armed criminal action. He waived his right to a jury trial, so Youngs and not a jury will rule on DeValkenaere's guilt or innocence.

In closing arguments Friday, prosecutors urged Youngs to find DeValkenaere guilty, saying no one is above the law.

“The state of Missouri finds it absolutely unreasonable that the defendant, a 20-year trained detective, a veteran of one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the region, disregarded his department’s policies, his own training and the law. To be clear, that law is the Constitution,” assistant prosecutor Dion Sankar said in his closing argument.

“The state of Missouri finds it absolutely unreasonable that he did this with a loaded gun. 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.”

But in urging Youngs to find her client not guilty, defense attorney Dawn Parsons said that DeValkenaere was left with no choice when he fatally shot Lamb while Lamb was backing a pickup truck into his basement garage on Dec. 3, 2019.

“Mr. Lamb pointed a gun at his partner, Troy Schwalm, a fully marked police officer. Eric had to shoot Mr. Lamb to save Troy’s life,” Parsons argued.

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Jill Toyoshiba/jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com
The Kansas City Star
Assistant Prosecutor Dion Sankar presents closing arguments as Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs listens on the final day of the trial of Kansas City police detective Eric DeValkenaere in Jackson County Circuit Court.

The shooting occurred after DeValkenaere and Schwalm, both members of the police department’s Violent Offender Squad, learned of a high-speed car chase involving a red pickup truck and a purple Mustang in the area they were working. A police helicopter tracked a red pickup truck to Lamb’s residence at 41st Street and College Avenue, where both detectives converged as Lamb was backing the truck into a basement garage.

Schwalm approached the driver's side of the truck while DeValkenaere approached the passenger's side. Schwalm testified that he did not see a gun in Lamb’s hand but DeValkenaere, who took the witness stand in his own defense on Wednesday, testified that he saw Lamb reach down and raise a gun. Yelling, “He’s got a gun, he’s got a gun,” DeValkenaere fired four bullets through the windshield. One bullet struck Lamb in the chest and another in the leg, fatally wounding him.

Prosecutors contend a gun later found on the garage floor beneath Lamb’s lifeless left hand dangling out the driver’s window was planted there by police. But in her closing argument, Parsons said there was no evidence of that.

“The state’s case is a series of unproven accusations, innuendos and unreasonable inferences,” she declared.

Earlier, a former policeman who is now a consultant on the use of police force testified as an expert witness for the defense. Steven Ijames said that DeValkenaere acted properly when he entered the property to investigate what Ijames described as “a dangerous situation."

Ijames, a retired major with the Springfield, Missouri, police department, said an experienced police officer would not have considered the high-speed chase on a residential street a mere traffic infraction. Rather, he said, it would have given rise to a “reasonable suspicion” that a crime had occurred, was occurring or was about to occur.

But another assistant prosecutor, Tim Dollar, said in his closing argument that he disagreed with Ijames “and would respectfully suggest that maybe he sort of reorient himself” and “spend some more time looking at the Constitution.”

Prosecutors contend that once the high-speed chase ended, no urgent circumstances existed requiring DeValkenaere and his partner to trespass on private property with guns drawn without first obtaining a search warrant.

“We might not need a Fourth Amendment, because if they’re able to articulate that they can go in and investigate when they don’t have a crime, they don’t have exigency, they don’t have pursuit, then under these circumstances you can shred the Fourth Amendment,” Sankar argued. “I’m going to conservatively say that position is plainly wrong.”

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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