KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A trial began Monday for a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer accused of involuntary manslaughter in a 2019 shooting.
Officer Eric J. DeValkenaere also is charged with armed criminal action in the death of Cameron Lamb, 26, who was parking a pickup truck in his backyard when he was shot on Dec. 3, 2019. The killing was often evoked in protests last year against racial injustice in Kansas City.
Prosecutors spent their opening statement outlining allegations that police staged a crime scene and even planted evidence to support their claims that Lamb was armed moments before DeValkenaere shot him, the Kansas City Star reported.
In her opening statement, defense attorney Molly Hastings said the prosecution’s key witness had repeatedly given inconsistent statements and had initially told investigators that Lamb usually kept his gun with him.
Lamb’s killing was among several cases cited by a group of civil rights organizations in a petition urging U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the Kansas City Police Department. The indictment in the case came days after Lamb’s death garnered renewed attention stemming from his family’s meeting with then-President Donald Trump in 2020.
In the past year, prosecutors have brought criminal charges against five white Kansas City police officers for allegedly using excessive force against Black people. DeValkenaere is the only officer charged in an on-duty killing.
Officers investigating a crash reported a red pickup chasing a purple Ford Mustang. A police helicopter located the truck driven by Lamb and followed it to his driveway.
DeValkenaere and another detective, Troy Schwalm, arrived at the home to investigate the crash. Before he was shot, Lamb had his left hand on the truck’s steering wheel and his cellphone in his right hand, prosecutors said.
DeValkenaere said he fired after Lamb pointed a gun at Schwalm. After the shooting, officers found Lamb inside the vehicle with his left arm and head hanging out of the driver’s side window. On the ground near his left hand was a handgun.
Schwalm later told the grand jury that he did not see Lamb with a weapon, prosecutors have said.
Meanwhile, medical records show that Lamb is right-handed and did not have full use of his left hand as a result of an injury sustained four years earlier, prosecutors said. DeValkenaere’s lawyers have previously said that Lamb pulled a gun with his left hand.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has said DeValkenaere’s conduct during the shooting was “reckless” and violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Her office alleged the detectives, who were in plainclothes, did not ask for permission to walk onto the property and did not have a warrant.
Kansas City’s Fraternal Order of Police has denounced the charges and accused Baker of “abusing her authority for political gain.”
The case is a rare example of a white officer from the city being criminally accused of killing a Black man. In 1942, two officers were acquitted in a killing, The Kanas City Star reported.
This story was first published on Nov. 8. It was updated on Nov. 19 to correct that DeValkenaere was not the first white officer in the city to be charged in the death of a Black person. Such a case happened in 1942.