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Jackson County prosecutor warns governor against pardoning KCPD officer who killed Cameron Lamb

Eric DeValkenaere, center, is comforted by attorneys Dawn Parsons, left, and Holly Hastings, after Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs announced in November 2021 that he found the Kansas City Police detective guilty in the fatal shooting of Cameron Lamb.
file photo
Eric DeValkenaere, center, is comforted by attorneys Dawn Parsons, left, and Holly Hastings, after Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs announced in November 2021 that he found the Kansas City Police detective guilty in the fatal shooting of Cameron Lamb.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is expected to issue a pardon for Eric DeValkenaere, the first Kansas City Police officer to be convicted for fatally shooting a Black man. DeValkenaere was convicted in November 2021.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has asked Missouri Gov. Mike Parson not to pardon Eric DeValkenaere, a white Kansas City Police officer who fatally shot a Black man.

In a letter released to media even before Parson issued a statement, Baker asked him to refrain from doing so, saying it would be a political action that subverts the rule of law.

"Pardons are political action, by design, not devised for the innocent but for the guilty," Baker wrote.

Parson's office countered by saying Baker's actions were "disappointing" and any pardon application by DeValkenaere will be treated as any other.

"It’s disappointing that the Jackson County prosecutor would play political games when Gov. Parson has a proven, bipartisan record of working to improve the criminal justice system as a whole," said his communications director, Kelli Jones.

While not commenting on a possible pardon, Jones said Parson is "grounded in his faith and believes in second chances."

Pardoning DeValkaneare would not only harm the public safety by triggering protests, Baker said, but it would further erode the public's trust in the criminal justice system.

"Witnesses don't want to testify, and victims decline to prosecute their attackers, even after suffering real injury," Baker wrote. "This distrust will only grow when you, as overseer of KCPD, choose a political action over the legal process."

DeValkenaere wasfound guilty in November 2021 of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Cameron Lamb, a Black man. It was the only conviction of a white police officer for the killing of a Black man in the city's history.

 A woman stands holding a picture of a man with the name "Cameron" at the top and blue flowers in the corners.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Vanessa Gray, Cameron Lamb's sister, silently held Lamb's picture while members of More2 protested the possible pardon of Eric DeValkenaere, the white Kansas City Police officer who shot and killed Lamb in 2019.

Members of the social justice group MORE2 held a protest in front of the Jackson County Courthouse condemning a possible pardon. Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor at St. James United Methodist Church, said pardoning DeValkenaere would tear the city apart.

"It sends the message that officers can do whatever they want and the governor will make sure they're taken care of," he said. "It says to the state of Missouri and to the rest of the United States that what the courts do don't matter."

Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said Parson is offering political cover to Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who was expected to fight DeValkenaere's legal appeal. Bailey will avoid angering his conservative constituents by dodging the legal case, she said.

"Who's harmed here? The Lamb family and Black people overall," Grant said. "His disrespect for the rule of law is unconscionable."

Grant said Parson would send a clear message with a pardon.

"He's confirming that there is a two-tiered justice system," she said. "And even when a cop is convicted of killing a Black man, he won't have to pay for it. Justice is certainly not blind."

Last Thursday, the City Council recognized June 8 as Cameron Lamb Day. Lamb would have been 30 years old on Wednesday.

Baker said she called the family and said the news of a possible pardon was difficult for them to hear, especially coming off last week's positive event.

"It really did break their heart," Baker said. At the council event, "they spoke about Cameron in a really beautiful way because he really was a fine young man," she said.

 A group of people join in a circle and bow their heads to pray. Behind them is a statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Members of the racial and economic justice organization More2 join with Cameron Lamb's family to pray against the possible pardon of Eric DeValkenaere, the white Kansas City Police officer who shot and killed Cameron Lamb in 2019.

Baker said she is exploring whether she can legally do anything to counter a pardon, but says it looks unlikely. She said that she has "great hope" that perhaps Parson was considering the appeal but is now changing his mind.

Rev. Rodney Williams, senior pastor at Swope Parkway United Christian Church, said it seems "outrageous" for Parson, the former Polk County Sheriff, to protect another law enforcement officer.

"It is an extreme and immoral to use the power of the office of governor to allow a white police officer to get away with the murder of another African American male," Williams said.

Lamb was shot and killed on Dec. 3, 2019, as he was sitting in a pickup truck and backing into his garage at 41st Street and College Avenue.

Jackson County prosecutors argued that DeValkenaere acted recklessly by entering Lamb’s property without a warrant, knocking over a makeshift fence and firing his weapon within seconds of coming upon the pickup truck.

The shooting occurred not long after a police helicopter spotted a red truck chasing a purple Mustang at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour through a residential neighborhood.

DeValkenaere, a 20-year veteran of the department and a member of its Violent Offender Squad when the shooting occurred, said he was responding to an ongoing danger and had probable cause to enter Lamb’s property.

Parson was asked to intervene in the case at least once before. KCPD Captain Danny Graves wrote to the governor asking him to allow DeValkenaere to remain out on bail pending his sentencing.

Graves, the husband of Chief Stacey Graves, wrote that the prosecution of DeValkenaere was “politically motivated” by Baker's office. When asked about the letter in December, Stacey Graves told KCUR that she didn't know it existed.

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 news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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