© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City police chief says she didn't know her husband supported detective convicted of 2019 killing

A woman wearing a police chief's uniform and headphones talks at a microphone inside a studio. She's gesturing with her left hand as she talks.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Newly installed Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves speaks to Steve Kraske on KCUR's Up to Date on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022.

KCPD Captain Danny Graves wrote that the prosecution of Eric DeValkenaere was “politically motivated” by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s office. Asked if that meant there was a lack of trust between her and Baker, Chief Stacey Graves said she knows the importance of that relationship.

Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said Friday that she didn’t know that her husband, who is a captain in the department, had written a letter of support for Eric DeValkenaere, the former Kansas City police detective convicted in the 2019 killing of a Black man.

Graves, who was appointed just last week, was asked about the letter written by her husband, KCPD Captain Danny Graves, on KCUR’s “Up to Date.” The letter was written in February 2021, addressed to the judge who oversaw the case, and asked that DeValkenaere’s sentencing be postponed until after an appeal.

“I don't know what that was,” Stacey Graves said when asked about the letter.

In a follow-up email, Graves said she contacted her husband after the interview and asked him about the letter.

“He advised he was asked to write a letter to speak to DeValkenaere’s character for his sentencing hearing," Graves said.

Graves is the first woman in the chief's job in KCPD's 148-year history.

Also addressed to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, the letter asked the judge to consider allowing DeValkenaere to remain out of jail on bond pending his appeal.

“The case has a strong argument to be overturned and incarceration for a citizen who has served our public would be reckless and counterintuitive,” Danny Graves’ letter said.

DeValkenaere was the first Kansas City law enforcement officer to be convicted for the fatal shooting of a Black man.

Danny Graves wrote that he had supervised DeValkenaere in 2014, while the two worked gun cases, and found he was a hard-working detective and “a go to” when it came to good case work.

DeValkenaere also moved his family across the street from the Graves’ home in Kansas City North in 2008, Danny Graves wrote, describing DeValkenaere as a family man who coached his kids’ sports teams and played football, softball and basketball with neighborhood kids.

“This is not a man who would intentionally hurt someone unprovoked or with malice,” letter says. “I have watched him at work be a man of patience and compassion. Never a man of recklessness, ineptitude or trial.”

Danny Graves wrote that the prosecution of DeValkenaere was “politically motivated” by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s office. Asked if that meant there was a lack of trust between her and Baker, Stacey Graves said she has reached out to Baker and she knows the importance of that relationship.

“When I was in the media unit, you know, there were often times where we would be at scenes together,” Stacey Graves said. “There were other contact points throughout my career and it was always a pleasant and productive working relationship. And I'm going to continue that.”

In her follow-up email sent late Friday, Graves again responded to her relationship with Baker.

"I recognize the value of the prosecutor’s office as part of the justice process," Graves said. "I look forward to working with all of the prosecutors to make Kansas City safer.”

DeValkenaere appealed his six-year sentence in November, saying his conviction for the killing of Cameron Lamb should be thrown out, or at least he should get a new trial. He argued that Jackson County Judge Dale Youngs used the wrong interpretation of the law last year to convict DeValkenaere.

The former police detective was found guilty of second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in November 2021 for shooting the 26-year-old Lamb to death on private property. After the trial, Youngs found that the circumstances gave the detective no right to come on to private property without a warrant, much less use deadly force against Lamb.

DeValkenaere and another KCPD detective arrived at a house at the 4100 block of College Avenue on Dec. 3, 2019 where Lamb had arrived in a pickup truck following a vehicle and helicopter pursuit for several traffic violations.

DeValkenaere fired shots at the pickup, later saying he believed Lamb had a gun and prepared to use it against the officers. Prosecutors argued the scene had been manipulated and a gun had been planted near Lamb, something DeValkenaere denied at trial.

Chief Graves also repeated Friday that the decision on whether her husband stays in the department is up to him. There are two layers of managers between them, she said, which should satisfy department rules. He is also eligible for retirement, she said.

“If he wants to remain in a position that's obviously not close to the chief's office, so be it. If he decides to look for other opportunities, then he will do that also,” she said. “We did talk about that, but he said, ‘OK, I'll start figuring that out once you get the job.’”

Updated: December 24, 2022 at 7:52 AM CST
This story was updated to include a follow-up statement from Graves after her interview on Up To Date.
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.
When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.