KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The woman who Cameron Lamb lived with at the house on College Avenue where he was shot to death by a Kansas City, Missouri, police detective testified Tuesday on the second day of Det. Eric DeValkenaere’s trial.
DeValkenaere has been charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action, both felonies, in Lamb’s death on Dec. 3, 2019.
Roberta Merritt, a longtime friend and roommate of Lamb’s, testified for more than two hours Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court.
She described Lamb’s relationship with Shanice Reed, who also lived at the house in the 4100 block of College Avenue before moving out the morning of the shooting after a fight with Lamb.
Merritt said Lamb was upset “to a certain extent” after an argument with Reed, “but he wasn’t in a rage or anything like that.”
She testified that Det. Troy Schwalm, who has since been promoted to sergeant but worked with DeValkenaere in KCPD’s Violent Offenders Unit at the time, never spoke to her after pulling into her driveway and exiting his vehicle with his gun drawn.
He headed down the driveway and was the first law enforcement officer to encounter Lamb.
Shortly after Schwalm’s arrival, DeValkenaere pulled up outside the house and also entered the property with his gun drawn.
According to Merritt, he pointed his gun at her and told her not to move. DeValkenaere then asked how many people were in the back to which she replied, “Two.”
Prosecutors contend that neither Schwalm nor DeValkenaere asked Merritt’s permission to enter the property, asked if she was in distress or asked if anyone was in the backyard who shouldn’t be.
The officers never explicitly identified themselves as police and Merritt never invited either officer onto the property, but DeValkenaere’s defense team suggested it was apparent they were police.
Both wore ballistic vests, which said police on them, and Merritt said she suspected they were police based on their actions.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that part out,” she said.
But Merritt also testified that she was “just kind of dazed” in her interaction with officers.
Merritt said she heard DeValkenaere knock over a hood and grill on the north side of the house to get into the backyard, heard shouting and then heard gunshots ring out.
“It happened so fast, to where I had my head covered; I covered my ears and the top of my head,” Merritt said. “It was so loud.”
Merritt doesn’t recall ever hearing Schwalm or DeValkenaere identify themselves as police to Lamb before the shooting.
Within “a matter of seconds” after the shooting, Merritt said the yard was covered with additional police officers.
DeValkenaere told investigators that he saw Lamb with a gun in his left hand, but Schwalm testified that he saw his left hand on the steering wheel with his fingers spread open.
Merritt said she saw Lamb’s gun on the third step from the bottom of the stairs from the garage into the house when he was allegedly chasing Reed through the city streets, drawing the attention of the KCPD Det. Adam Hill and setting the deadly encounter with police into motion.
Defense attorney Molly Hastings tried to paint Merritt as an unreliable witness during cross examination, claiming that she didn’t initially indicate DeValkenaere had pointed a gun at her and that she conveniently remembered seeing Lamb’s gun only after “lawsuits and lawyers and indictments” were involved.
Merritt did not mention seeing the gun on the stairs when questioned by investigators on the afternoon of the shooting. She also didn’t mention it Dec. 14 in a conversation with Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Dion Shankar and others nor when she provided a handwritten statement on Jan. 4, 2020.
Merritt said she remembered additional details “as time went on, replaying it over and over again.”
The first time Merritt mentioned seeing the gun on the stairs was June 18, 2020, which also was the first time she was testifying under oath during grand jury proceedings.
“As time went on, it took a minute for things to really register because there was so much else going on,” Merritt said.
Hastings questioned her evolving recollection of events.
“The truth is that memories do not get better over time,” Hastings said.
That line of questioning stood in stark contrast to Monday, when defense attorneys helped Schwalm walk back part of his initial testimony.
He clarified that, while he remembered seeing Lamb’s left hand on the steering wheel, it may not have been at the moment DeValkenaere shouted “he’s got a gun” twice and opened fire as he initially told investigators.
Schwalm said, as time passed, he was no longer sure about the exact timing of when he saw Lamb’s left hand on the steering wheel.
DeValkenaere fired four shots, striking Lamb twice. The fatal shot hit Lamb in the upper left chest and he also was shot in the right leg.
DeValkenaere’s defense attorneys refuted the idea that a self-inflicted gunshot wound several years earlier left Lamb unable to use his left hand, which family and prosecutors have claimed.
Hastings played a 10-minute video of clips from Lamb’s personal Facebook page in which he used his left hand for various tasks, including picking up water bottles and other items as well as working on car engines.
Merritt wiped tears from her eyes as the video played and at other times looked away, visibly upset.
Hastings later showed a shorter video of clips posted to Facebook from 2017 to May 2019 in which Lamb was driving around with a gun in his lap, firing shots into the air on New Year’s Eve or rapping over video with bullets strewn across a bed.
Later during Hastings’ cross examination, Merritt became agitated and curtly said, “I don’t know why you keep smiling at me, because I don’t see anything funny here.”
Presiding Judge Dale Youngs interjected and asked everyone to relax and focus on completing the testimony.
After Merritt’s testimony, prosecutors called KCPD Crime Scene Technician Ben Simmons, a 26-year veteran with the department. He said crime scene technicians were called to the scene around 5:30 p.m., approximately five hours after Lamb was shot and killed.
Trial attorney Tim Dollar, who is assisting the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office with the case, grilled Simmons about why two live bullets were not discovered in Lamb’s pocket at the scene.
Other contents from the pocket were photographed during what Simmons described as a “cursory” examination of the body at the scene, but the bullets weren't found until the autopsy of Lamb’s body a day later at the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Dollar also asked about an amendment to Simmons’ official report, which was made eight days after the shooting. Simmons said a reviewer requested DeValkenaere be added as the victim and Lamb as the suspect in the report.
Prosecutors argued during Monday’s opening statement that evidence initially collected at the scene and information contained in the official KCPD version of events conflicted, raising the question as to whether some elements were staged.
On cross examination, Hastings zeroed in on the fact that Lamb’s truck was running, but the keys were found in his pocket and there were no keys in the ignition.
During the afternoon, two more KCPD crime scene technicians testified, including Kelli Green who explained that it’s not uncommon for a more thorough examination of clothing to be performed during the autopsy.
Fellow KCPD crime scene technician Pamela Owens said there were many more items, not just the bullets, found during the exam at the Medical Examiner’s office.
Lamb apparently was wearing sweatpants under his jeans and a hoodie with pockets, which Green didn’t believe were searched at the original scene.
Prosecutors called several more KCPD officers who arrived after the shooting and cleared the garage before emergency personnel and crime scene technicians were allowed into the structure.
One of the officers who entered behind the shield said he saw a gun under Lamb’s hand, which was hanging outside the driver’s side window.
Prosecutors grilled the officers about the aftermath of the shooting, the procedures used, the timing of when medical personnel were allowed to enter and attend to Lamb, and other minutiae related to how the KCPD’s investigation of the shooting took place.
DeValkenaere is believed to be the first KCPD officer to stand trial for a deadly on-duty shooting in the city's history.
Lamb's family has filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit against DeValkenaere and the KCPD Board of Police Commissioners.
KSHB Reporter McKenzie Nelson and Assignment Reporter Steve Kaut contributed to this report.
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