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Grand Jury Indicts Kansas City Police Detective In Killing Of Cameron Lamb In December

Laurie Bey, Cameron Lamb’s mother, addresses the crowd at a Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday, May 31.
Laurie Bey, Cameron Lamb’s mother, addresses the crowd at a Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday, May 31.

On Thursday, a grand jury indicted a Kansas City police detective in the fatal shooting of a Black man in his own backyard last year.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced the indictment of Eric J.

DeValkenaere on charges of first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in connection with the December 3, 2019, killing of Cameron Lamb.

Lamb, 26, was seated in his pickup truck as he was backing into his garage when he was shot to death.

Police said officers were near his home at 35th and College when they saw a red truck chasing a purple Mustang. A police helicopter tracked the truck south along College Avenue for a few blocks to the backyard of what turned out to be Lamb’s home.

According to the Kansas City Police Department, Lamb was still in his truck when he allegedly pulled a gun and pointed it at one of two approaching plainclothes officers. DeValkenaere fired, striking and killing Lamb.

Baker called DeValkenaere’s conduct “reckless” and in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

“The defendant’s reckless behavior began by entering the victim’s property without a consent, without a warrant, knocking over a fence to gain entry into that backyard and firing his weapon, killing Cameron within seconds of entry,” Baker said at the late-afternoon news conference.

Baker said the police department has not cooperated with her investigation, refusing to turn over a probable cause statement after she made a formal request for one.

“I was told in meetings thereafter with the representatives of the department that my actions would greatly harm the department’s morale,” she said. “That probable cause statement has yet to come. So we went to the grand jury today. Although a pandemic threatened to delay this even further, we believed it was necessary to present this evidence.”

Lamb’s family was among several families of Black Americans that met with President Trump this week to discuss police practices. Aqil Bey, Lamb’s stepfather, said at the press conference that Trump and Attorney General William Barr promised to look into Lamb’s killing.

In a statement, the Kansas City Police Department said that DeValkenaere, who has been suspended, has been with the KCPD since September 1999 and was assigned to its Investigations Bureau.

“The Kansas City Missouri Police Department continues to mourn the loss of life and all suffering surrounding this incident,” the statement said. “We respect the judicial process, including the grand jury’s finding in this matter, as well as all defendants’ presumption of innocence until proven guilty. As the case makes its way through court, we will continue to respect the process, and therefore cannot comment further at this time.”

The statement added the department will internally review the actions taken by officers in the case.

The indictment comes amid increased scrutiny of police practices across the country in the wake of the killing by police of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, on May 25 in Minneapolis. Since then, cities including Kansas City have been roiled by protests over Floyd’s death and police brutality.

Alluding to the protests, Baker said, “We are living in really troubled times. Emotions are high and however opportune or unfortunate … the timing of this particular case in this announcement, I view this moment as consequential and necessary. We need to be here. These moments of reform — they’re long overdue for us to have real discussions about how to reform the criminal justice systems, how police, prosecutors, and the courts must and should reform.”

Lamb’s family has retained an attorney, Lee Merritt, who also represents the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man fatally shot in February when a white father and son chased him down after they spotted him running in a Brunswick, Georgia, subdivision.

Baker said that key evidence in the Lamb case came from a voicemail recording connected to Lamb’s phone at the crime scene.

“In fact, we believe that phone call was made within moments of the interaction with police and at the time he was shot,” she said.

DeValkenaere's indictment comes little more than four weeks after two Kansas City police officers were charged with assaulting Brianna Hill, a Black transgender woman, when they arrested her in May 2019. A passerby recorded a video of the incident, which showed the officers kneeing her in the face and torso while she was handcuffed.

Hill was shot to death at a house in Kansas City in October. A suspect was arrested in connection with her killing.

The two police officers have been placed on administrative assignment.

Baker referred to the Hill case during the press conference, saying that key evidence — in that case the video recording — had come from outside witnesses. She urged others who witnessed police wrongdoing to come forward as well.

Baker said that she had been warned not to seek charges against DeValkenaere.

“This is not the first time,” she said, that warnings and threats had been made against her.

“I've heard it before, and this is not my first high-profile case that I've handled. Those threats didn't work then, and they won’t work now. Now we will stay on this case, we will keep prosecuting this case and we will prove our case in a courtroom. And that's my commitment.”

In a statement, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said, “My heart continues to break for the family of Cameron Lamb. I thank the grand jury, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office, and the FBI for their work. Even though it has been unnecessarily delayed in this case, I believe our justice system in Kansas City took an important step today, showing all are accountable before the law.”

At Lucas’ urging, the Board of Police Commissioners adopted several new police oversight measures earlier this month, including requiring the KCPD to reverse its policy of not sending probable cause statements to prosecutors and law enforcement in investigations of officer-involved shootings.

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3