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Calls to fire Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith over comment that Black shooting victim was the 'bad guy'

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith speaks at a podium with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas standing behind him at an Operation LeGend update in September last year.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith talks at an Operation LeGend update in September last year.

Police commissioners were mum Wednesday after a video surfaced in which Smith could be heard saying the "bad guy's dead" following the fatal shooting of Cameron Lamb, a Black man killed by KCPD Detective Erik DeValkenaere, who was convicted last month of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith came under fire Wednesday after a video surfaced in which he can be heard calling a fatal Black victim of a police shooting “the bad guy.”

Activists again called for Smith’s firing and some Kansas City Council members talked about refusing to work with him — just two days after the Board of Police Commissioners hastened Smith’s retirement with an announcement that he will be gone by next spring.

Some members of the Kansas City Council also began looking forward to finding Smith’s successor. KCUR has learned that an ordinance will be introduced Thursday to provide funding for the police board to start a search for the next chief. The measure seeks same-day adoption, which would require nine council votes to pass.

Meanwhile, the government body that has the authority to oust Smith — the board of police commissioners — stayed silent. Commissioners Bishop Mark Tolbert, Cathy Dean and Dawn Cramer did not return calls seeking comment on Wednesday. Commissioner Don Wagner could not be reached.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, the fifth member of the board, tweeted Tuesday after the Kansas City Star first reported on the Smith video, that he would withhold comment until after he talked to Smith about the veracity of the tape.

“As a father of a Black son and as a Black man, it pains me to hear audio during an official police investigation that denigrates a fellow human being,” Lucas tweeted.

Public records request
A frame grab from the Dec. 3, 2019, dashcam video minutes after Cameron Lamb was shot and killed. On the video, Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith can be heard saying, "Bad guy’s dead.”

The video was recorded on Dec. 3, 2019, after police responded to the fatal shooting of Cameron Lamb, a 26-year-old Black man, by Detective Eric DeValkenaere. A judge on Nov. 19 convicted DeValkenaere of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the shooting of Lamb. DeValkenaere is awaiting sentencing.

The video was released to KCUR because it had been introduced — but not aired — at DeValdenaere’s trial, making it part of the public record.

Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said Wednesday that Smith should be “terminated immediately for his incompetent and feckless leadership.” Lamb was not the “bad guy,” Grant said. Smith and the people he protected during the shooting investigation are the bad guys, she said.

“Rick Smith needs to be terminated immediately for obstructing justice and blatant disregard for Black people,” she said. “This recording makes it abundantly clear that there is no path forward with this guy, no community healing as long as he’s chief.”

Lora McDonald, executive director of MORE2, a social justice group, also called for Smith's immediate firing on the grounds his actions had eroded trust beyond repair in the community.

"We intend to have a strong presence in every Board of Police Commissioners meeting until he is out and, if we have to, we will take our message straight to Gov. (Mike) Parson's office," she said.

Darron Edwards, pastor of United Believers Community Church, tweeted to city council members, saying they cannot “sit back and expect this to just go away.”

“Words are important, the word choice was not a mistake or slip of the tongue…every other phrase was technical and so was ‘bad guy is dead,’" Edwards tweeted.

Smith still has supporters. Councilwoman Teresa Loar said she fully supports him because he’s doing his job well.

Loar said the video of Smith calling Cameron Lamb the “bad guy” was just "cop talk."

“He’s a cop and that’s cop talk," Loar said. "I don’t think it was offensive at all. This is getting so petty. Don’t we have any news to report?”

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
Lynn Horsley is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.
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