KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City, Missouri, police detective who shot and killed a man in December 2019 has been found guilty.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Dale Youngs announced the verdict Friday, a week after Det. Eric DeValkenaere’s four-day trial wrapped up on Nov. 12.
It was a bench trial, so no jury was seated, and Youngs ruled on the case alone.
A Jackson County grand jury indicted DeValkenaere in June 2020, and he was charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action, which are both felonies.
Friday, the judge announced the court found DeValkenaere guilty of both the lesser charge of second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.
Youngs' ruling focused primarily on whether or not DeValkenaere and his partner had a right to be on the property.
Determining they did not, the judge said the pair were the initial aggressors and escalated a situation that had previously been deescalated.
As police officers, Youngs said, the detectives had a duty to retreat from the interaction.
The judge will set a sentencing hearing after meeting with counsel for both parties. DeValkenaere will remain free on bond until that time.
DeValkenaere, who started with KCPD in 1999 and was assigned to the investigations division, has been reassigned to an "administrative assignment" within the Executive Services Bureau since being charged, according to the department.
KSHB has reached out to KCPD about DeValkenaere's employment status following his felony convictions Friday.
The trial, initially scheduled to begin in July, was delayed four months and reassigned to Youngs last summer.
There was never a dispute about whether DeValkenaere killed Lamb. Still, the issue was whether he acted reasonably or recklessly, flouted the constitution, and possibly planted evidence to ensure he’d be acquitted as the prosecution contended.
DeValkenaere’s trial is believed to be the first for a KCPD officer to kill someone in the line of duty since 1942.
According to archived articles from The Kansas City Star, two officers were acquitted of second-degree murder after shooting and killing Harrison J. Ware on July 26, 1941, during a raid at the Autumn Leaf club.
DeValkenaere trial recap
DeValkenaere and his partner in KCPD’s Violent Offenders Unit, Det. Troy Schwalm, were guided to Lamb’s house by a police helicopter after another member of the unit, Det. Adam Hill reported seeing a red truck chasing a purple Ford Mustang at high speeds in the area.
Hill lost sight of the vehicles, but a KCPD surveillance helicopter found a car matching the description driving erratically in the area and followed it as Lamb returned home and started to park the vehicle behind the house.
There were no 911 calls placed about the chase and no calls indicating that the red truck had been involved in a crime beyond traffic violations.
KCPD’s policy regarding vehicle pursuits doesn’t allow patrol officers to chase vehicles except in the case of a serious felony, and officers with the Violent Offenders Unit aren’t permitted to participate in chases because their covert cars aren’t equipped with emergency lights or sirens.
Despite that, DeValkenaere and Schwalm responded to Lamb’s house to “investigate” whether a violent crime had occurred or was occurring despite no evidence that one had taken place, no indication Lamb had a weapon, and no complaining witness.
Schwalm arrived first in an unmarked Chevrolet Impala at the house on College Avenue, parked in a shared driveway on the south side of the property, and exited his vehicle with his service weapon drawn before heading into the backyard.
DeValkenaere arrived moments later in an unmarked GMC Sierra. He also drew his weapon before heading to the backyard of the property on the north side.
Neither Schwalm nor DeValkenaere asked Lamb’s roommate, Roberta Merritt, who was sitting on the porch when the detectives arrived, for permission to enter the property.
Schwalm testified that he contacted Lamb, who attempted to back the red truck into a narrow underground garage behind the house, but he refused commands to turn off the vehicle and step out of it.
It’s unclear if Lamb heard or understood Schwalm’s commands because he never responded. According to testimony from both officers, he also never looked at DeValkenaere after he approached the vehicle from the other side.
Schwalm, who was standing a few feet off the front driver’s side of the truck, said he remembered seeing Lamb’s hand with his fingers “splayed” out on the steering wheel at some point during the seconds-long encounter.
DeValkenaere, who kicked over a barbecue grill that served as a makeshift fence to enter the backyard, said from his vantage point looking through the truck’s passenger window, he saw Lamb begin to raise “a full-size polymer pistol” between the door and steering wheel aimed in Schwalm’s direction.
During the 9-second encounter from when DeValkenaere started toward the backyard to when he opened fire, the KCPD detective testified that he saw Lamb reach for the pistol but didn’t immediately fire because Lamb “posed no threat” and he thought he was attempting to hide the gun.
Schwalm said he never saw a weapon.
After seeing Lamb allegedly lift the gun toward his partner, DeValkenaere fired four rounds, shooting Lamb in the left upper chest — the fatal shot — as well as the right leg.
Neither Lamb nor Schwalm fired a weapon.
After he was shot, Lamb’s truck rolled backward down the sloped entrance to the garage and came to rest at an angle against the back of the garage.
It would be more than 20 minutes before emergency medical personnel, who declared Lamb dead, were allowed into the garage to assess his injuries.
During that time, arriving KCPD tactical personnel entered and cleared the garage of danger. Some officers testified to seeing a gun, but others said they never saw the weapon that police investigators reported finding on the garage floor below Lamb’s left hand, which came to rest hanging out of the open driver’s side window.
Merritt testified that she knew Lamb, who ran a mechanic business from the house, owned a gun and often kept it in the truck, but she said she saw it on the garage steps that morning — not far from where it was eventually found — when Lamb wasn’t home.
The prosecution insinuated that evidence detailed in police reports might have been staged or manufactured, including the location of the gun and items found on Lamb’s body that weren’t initially discovered at the scene but showed up during the autopsy on Dec. 4, 2019, at the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Officer.
Prosecutors — including trial attorney Tim Dollar, who assisted the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office on the case — questioned why DeValkenaere could be heard on a voicemail captured after Lamb placed a call shortly before the shooting yelled “keep your hands up” unless his hands had been up at the time of the shooting.
They also questioned why DeValkenaere relayed information about other parties possibly having been at the house earlier in the day with weapons when he had no evidence of any such activity.
DeValkenaere said he overheard Merritt tell other officers who arrived on the scene after the shooting about a fight between Lamb and his ex-girlfriend. He radioed out after KCPD dispatch asked if there were any suspects at-large connected to the fatal incident.
What led police to Lamb’s house?
Lamb and his live-in girlfriend, Shanice Reed, have been in a fight that turned physical that morning, and she had moved out.
Both Lamb and Reed left the house on College Avenue in separate vehicles after the fight to go to her relative’s house. Police were not called about the altercation.
Reed returned later that day with friends and family to gather her belongings, which Lamb had moved to the curb, and another verbal altercation took place. Again, police were never called.
Lamb threw lugnuts at Reed as she left before she stopped her Mustang near Lamb’s truck as she pulled away. He ran down the block after her before she drove off when he got into his truck — which the defense said was stolen — and gave chase.
That chase went past Hill near the Blue Valley Market, and DeValkenaere said he later saw Lamb’s truck run a red light, but he testified that he never saw a purple Mustang. The police helicopter, which started to canvass the area after Hill radioed in the chase, also never spotted the Mustang.
The prosecution contended that DeValkenaere — and Schwalm, who is not charged in connection with Lamb’s death — illegally entered the property before shooting Lamb, making his conduct reckless and criminal.
With no evidence of a violent crime, no evidence of weapons, no calls for service from the public, no active police pursuit, no exigent circumstances to believe someone at the College Avenue residence was in danger, no search warrant, and no permission to enter the property, DeValkenaere acted unconstitutionally in manufacturing the encounter with Lamb, prosecutors said.
DeValkenaere admitted that he had no “probable cause” that a violent crime had taken place but that he had “reasonable suspicion,” which is a different legal standard that doesn’t include direct evidence of a crime.
According to prosecutors, that Schwalm and DeValkenaere were in plainclothes and driving unmarked vehicles made the civil-rights violation especially egregious.
A legal expert for the defense argued that guidance from the KCPD helicopter, Hill’s eye-witness account of the vehicle chase, and DeValkenaere’s intuition as a law enforcement officer honed over two decades created a legal justification for entering the property to investigate.
The defense also said that DeValkenaere had an obligation to follow Schwalm into the backyard rather than leave him alone after leaving behind the house.
DeValkenaere also testified under oath that he saw Lamb with a gun and never asked any fellow officers to plant evidence or alter reports related to the case.
Involuntary manslaughter is a Class C felony, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence under Missouri law.
According to Missouri law, armed criminal action carries a minimum three-year sentence and maximum 15-year sentence, which must be served consecutively — or in addition to — any underlying conviction.
In civil court, Lamb’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against DeValkenaere and the KCPD Board of Police Commissioners.
Lamb’s mother, Laurie Bey, acknowledged that her son was “imperfect” but said he was a good person and father to three young boys in the days after the shooting.
When protests erupted in Kansas City and across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, Lamb’s name was among those invoked by protesters seeking local reform.
Tod Palmer at KSHB first reported this story.