KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The other Kansas City, Missouri, police detective at the scene when Det. Eric DeValkenaere shot and killed Cameron Lamb on Dec. 3, 2019, testified Monday on the opening day of the first known trial in the city’s history in which a police officer was charged in a deadly on-duty shooting.
Det. Troy Schwalm became visibly choked up when defense attorney Dawn Parsons asked if he believed DeValkenaere saved his life that day before simply replying, “Yes.”
Schwalm reached for a tissue and dabbed tears from his eyes as Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Dion Sankar resumed the state’s redirect.
Schwalm’s testimony is central to the case against DeValkenaere, a decorated white officer who is charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in Lamb’s death after being indicted in June 2020 by a Jackson County grand jury.
DeValkenaere shot Lamb, a 26-year-old father of three, twice as he backed a red pickup truck into the garage of a house where he lived in the 4100 block of College Avenue.
Tim Dollar, a trial attorney working with the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, laid out the evidence against DeValkenaere as both the prosecution and defense presented opening statements before five other KCPD officers testified.
Dollar said the state intends to prove that DeValkenaere shot and killed Lamb “without probable cause or a warrant and without just cause.”
“Careful and responsible police officers protect our citizens in their own homes,” Dollar said. “Careless and irresponsible police officers shoot our citizens in their own homes.”
Among the central issues before Jackson County Presiding Judge Dale Youngs, who is overseeing the bench trial that got underway Monday at the downtown Jackson County Courthouse, will be whether DeValkenaere and Schwalm violated Lamb’s constitutional rights by entering the property without permission.
But Schwalm’s recollection of the fatal encounter also is pivotal.
DeValkenaere’s partner ‘clarifies’ testimony
Schwalm tried to walk back other parts of his testimony, including a statement he made to investigators the afternoon of the shooting.
On the afternoon of Dec. 3, 2019, Schwalm told investigators that he didn’t see Lamb with a gun in his possession.
“All I saw was what would have been his left hand waving at me and he was looking at me,” Schwalm said.
He testified Monday that he remembered seeing Lamb’s left hand on the steering wheel and that he “flayed out his fingers and showed me his fingers at one point.”
It’s an important point because DeValkenaere said he shouted “he’s got a gun” twice and then opened fire only after he saw Lamb raise a gun toward Schwalm with his left hand.
Schwalm tried to clarify that he isn’t sure about the timing of when he saw Lamb “flay” his hands and show his fingers, only that it was unusual and that it happened at some point during the encounter.
DeValkenaere fired four times, striking Lamb with the fatal shot in the upper left chest and also hitting Lamb in the right leg.
Schwalm, who was the first policeman to make contact with Lamb, said he remembered seeing Lamb “tilt,” or slump, toward the passenger seat.
After the shooting, the truck, which was still running as Lamb backed down the sloped entrance to the subterranean garage, rolled to the back of the garage.
Lamb was found with his left arm hanging out the driver’s side window and a gun on the garage floor underneath his hand, according to information police released in the days after the shooting.
Prosecution questions investigation
But that point also is in dispute.
Dollar began to cast doubt on KCPD’s investigation and evidence, including the location of a gun found under Lamb’s hand next to the car in the garage and ammunition found in Lamb’s pocket during the autopsy.
Officer Kyle Easley, who was the shield man for the tactical team that entered the garage after the shooting, testified that he never saw a gun in the garage near Lamb.
He noted that Lamb was seated in the vehicle with his left arm hanging out the window, but he did not note the presence of a gun on the garage floor next to the truck.
Easley said the shield may have obstructed his view, but he put it in the report — noting that “we saw the gun on the ground” — because other members of the team claimed to have seen it.
Prosecutors said Roberta Merritt, who owned the house where Lamb lived and was killed, will testify that she saw the gun on the stairs from the house to the garage that morning.
DeValkenaere’s attorney, Molly Hastings, used her opening statement to cast Merritt’s credibility, noting that she has changed her testimony about Lamb’s gun multiple times in interviews.
Still, prosecutors also questioned two bullets found in Lamb’s pocket during the autopsy at the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office, which weren’t found during the search of his pockets at the crime scene — though the other contents of his pockets matched.
Opening statements lay groundwork
Dollar acknowledged that Lamb “had struggles like everyone. He was not perfect.”
Early on Dec. 3, Lamb and his girlfriend, Shanice Reed, who also lived in Merritt’s home, got into a physical altercation.
There were no injuries or weapons involved in what Dollar described as a “brief altercation,” but it led Lamb to pack up Reed’s belongings and ask her to move out.
Police were never called regarding the altercation, but Lamb began moving Reed’s belongings from the garage behind the house to the curb around 9:30 a.m.
Shortly afterward, Lamb and Reed left together in separate vehicles to speak with her family about the situation.
When they returned several hours later, Reed’s family also came to the house on College Avenue to help collect her things. She and Lamb got into another verbal altercation with each threatening to call police, though again no call was ever placed.
DeValkenaere’s attorneys said Lamb tried to open the trunk to Reed’s Ford Mustang with a screwdriver and threw a handful of lugnuts at her.
Reed then got into her Mustang and drove toward Lamb’s truck, according to prosecutors, at which point he got in his vehicle and began chasing her.
With both vehicles traveling at a high rate of speed, the Mustang and Lamb’s red pickup truck sped past Det. Adam Hill, who is part of the same Violent Offenders Unit as DeValkenaere, at 12:21 p.m. in the area of East 43rd Street and Cleveland Avenue.
Hill, who was driving an unmarked silver Chrysler minivan, radioed it in and asked if a KCPD helicopter was still in the area. Department policy prevented him from giving chase in a covert vehicle because it’s not equipped with emergency lights and sirens.“I felt like there was something very serious going on,” Hill testified Monday. “We had this rolling disaster going down the street.”
Around the same time, Dollar said, Merritt will testify that she saw Lamb’s gun on the stairs in the garage.
Hastings noted that Merritt had previously said Lamb usually carried the gun in his vehicle and never mentioned the possibility it was on the stairs during depositions, verbal or written statements until June 18, 2020, before the grand jury.
The defense will try to paint Merritt as an unreliable witness, claiming in its opening statement that her story has continued to evolve as recently as Oct. 13, 2021.
Regardless, there is no dispute that, by the time the police helicopter found a red truck speeding in the area, it was no longer pursuing the Mustang, according to testimony from KCPD Officer Eric Valentine, who was the tactical flight officer in the police helicopter and relayed the location of Lamb’s vehicle to bring Schwalm and DeValkenaere to the scene.
One of the central issues Youngs must decide is whether DeValkenaere — and Schwalm, though he’s not charged with a crime in the case — illegally entered the property where Lamb was shot.
Absent an immediate danger to someone’s life, should Schwalm and DeValkenaere obtained a warrant or permission from the property owner before entering private property? Prosecutors contend they should have and that any subsequent conduct was reckless without permission from a judge or property owner.
KCPD policies forbid chasing a vehicle for traffic crimes only, and police had no evidence of a felony that would justify initiating a chase.
Schwalm admitted that he had no information that a violent crime had been committed nor any probable cause to believe a violent crime had occurred other than Hill’s gut feeling after seeing the red truck chasing the purple Mustang.
Lamb was unaware he was being tracked until Merritt pointed out the police helicopter after he returned home, but he told her it wasn’t there for him, according to prosecutors.
After Hill’s initial call, he lost sight of the vehicle. The police helicopter reported seeing a red truck speeding and running a red light, so it followed, though there’s no video of those alleged traffic infractions.
There were no calls to 911 about the initial chase with Lamb following Reed at high speed or calls for service related to Lamb’s driving after he stopped chasing his ex-girlfriend and headed home.
Despite that, prosecutors said Scwhalm and DeValkenaere responded to Merritt’s house, where Lamb was parking his truck.
He had backed down the driveway, stopping at the bottom of the sloped driveway to speak with a friend in the backyard, and was positioning the truck to reverse under an awning attached to the back of the house.
Lamb was not fleeing an active police pursuit nor was he continuing to chase or endanger the public when the KCPD officers arrived at the home.
Schwalm and DeValkenaere wore plainclothes rather than police uniforms and drove unmarked vehicles.
Schwalm arrived first and parked at the top of the driveway in a dark blue Chevrolet Impala. He exited the vehicle with his gun already drawn and proceeded down the driveway on the south side of the house.
Schwalm readily acknowledged that he didn’t speak with Merritt, who was sitting on the porch when he arrived. He also didn’t speak with a man in the backyard who Lamb briefly spoke with as he backed down the driveway, a conversation recorded by the KCPD helicopter.
The state said DeValkenaere pointed his gun at Merritt after arriving moments later in an unmarked GMC Sierra and said “don’t move” before asking who was in the backyard.
DeValkenaere also failed to ask permission to enter the property before he went around the north side of the house and moved a large grill and red hood, which were “intended to block access to the backyard” as a makeshift fence.
Schwalm had already made contact with Lamb, who had made eye contact but had not spoken to the officer nor complied with his command to turn off the truck and exit the vehicle.
According to prosecutors, Schwalm could clearly see Lamb’s left hand, the index finger of which had been damaged in a non-fatal shooting several years earlier, in an open position and did not see a weapon.
At that point, DeValkenaere claimed he saw a gun and fired.
Up to Judge Youngs
Lamb had called a relative of Reed’s around the time Schwalm appeared in the driveway, and a voicemail captured audio of DeValkenaere yelling at him to show his hands and get out the car in the moments after the shooting.
There is no indication in the radio traffic or on the voicemail “that would indicate either officer saw a weapon,” Dollar said.
Still, Hastings argued in her opening statement that DeValkenaere had a different vantage point.
“From where Eric stood, what he saw was Cameron Lamb pulling a gun on his partner,” she said.
Within seconds, DeValkenaere opened fire and Lamb was dead, the tragic result of what prosecutors contend was a warrantless and unconstitutional search.
Schwalm said it was part of an investigation into a possible felony and DeValkenaere’s attorneys will try to paint the shooting as a heroic act that took a life to save an officer’s.
Youngs will have to weigh several different factors to determine if DeValkenaere’s conduct was illegal or justified, because the defense chose to bypass a jury and opted instead for a bench trial.
Lamb’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against DeValkenaere and the KCPD Board of Police Commissioners in June 2021.
Lamb’s mother, Laurie Bey, said she wasn’t satisfied with the department’s investigation and didn’t believe her son’s shooting was justified.
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