KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Attorneys for Eric DeValkenaere — the former Kansas City, Missouri, police detective convicted of second-degree manslaughter in Cameron Lamb’s shooting death — have formally filed an appeal.
DeValkenaere’s appellate attorney, Jonathan Laurans, submitted the 84-page brief Oct. 27 to the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District of Missouri.
Jackson County Circuit Court Presiding Judge J. Dale Youngs, who oversaw DeValkenaere’s bench trial in November 2021, sentenced the former KCPD detective to six years in prison last March after finding him guilty of two felony counts, second-degree manslaughter and armed criminal action.
Youngs ruled that DeValkenaere violated Lamb’s constitutional rights by entering the property where he was backing a truck into a subterranean garage in the 4100 block of College Avenue on Dec. 3, 2019, without permission.
DeValkenaere, now 44, also pushed over items set in place as a makeshift fence to reach the back of the property, where his partner with the Violent Offenders Unit, KCPD Sgt. Troy Schwalm, had confronted Lamb after being directed there by a police helicopter.
After entering the backyard, DeValkenaere claimed he saw Lamb raise a gun and point it at Schwalm before shooting and killing him.
A gun was found near the truck in the garage after it rolled down the sloped incline after Lamb was shot.
In the appellate court finding, DeValkenaere’s attorney made seven arguments as grounds for the appeal:
- Supreme Court precedent did not prohibit DeValkenaere and Schwalm from entering the property to apprehend Lamb, who was a suspect in some misdemeanor traffic charges resulting from a chase involving private vehicles;
- DeValkenaere didn’t “grossly deviate” from standard police procedures and practice, which would have violated the Fourth Amendment;
- Regardless of whether DeValkenaere was trespassing, he was entitled to defend Schwalm when Lamb pointed a gun at him;
- Trespassing alone didn’t make DeValkenaere the “initial aggressor” in the deadly sequence;
- DeValkenaere’s “presence on the curtilage” wasn’t the reason for Lamb’s death;
- Prosecutors failed to prove that DeValkenaere’s actions weren’t justified;
- And, finally, prosecutors failed to prove that DeValkenaere’s actions were unreasonable.
“Detective DeValkenaere is entitled to an acquittal,” the appellate brief concluded. “At the very least, he should receive a new trial where he is entitled to seek acquittal under MAI-CR 4th 406.08 (defense-of-others) without the erroneous determinations that his mere encroachment upon the curtilage at 4154 College violated the Fourth Amendment, or made him an ‘initial aggressor.’”
DeValkenaere conceded during testimony at this trial that he knew he was entering private property, had no probable cause to believe a felony had been committed and that he didn’t have a warrant.
His appeal, which largely relies on an analysis of federal case law and downplays the issue of DeValkenaere kicking over a grill and other items to reach the backyard, argues that none of that matters because police have broad powers when investigating any crime to affect an interview or arrest, even traffic violations.
“This was a traffic stop,” the appellate brief said.
The brief glosses over the fact that KCPD pursuit policy doesn’t permit a chase for traffic charges, but contends that Youngs erred when he ruled that Schwalm and DeValkenaere weren’t engaged in a “fresh, hot or otherwise” pursuit of Lamb. Youngs ruled that the officers had no legal justification for entering the property without a warrant, a standard known as "exigent circumstances."
Further, Youngs ruled that illegally entering the property made the KCPD officers the initial aggressors with a duty to retreat rather than pursue Lamb onto private property.
DeValkenaere’s attorneys argue that no constitutional requirement existed in Dec. 2019 for law enforcement to suspect a felony had occurred to make an arrest, that the traffic violations alone provided the pretextual probable cause for police to stop and question Lamb even after he was no longer driving on a public street.
The appeal also argues that, regardless of whether DeValkenaere and Schwalm were legally on the property, by refusing to comply with Schwalm’s commands to turn the truck off he forfeited constitutional protections.
“Missouri law provides no safe quarter for non-compliant suspects,” according to page 60 of the appeal. “... Cameron Lamb's death is tragic, but it was avoidable.”
The appeal casts Lamb as the “initial aggressor” for allegedly raising a weapon, arguing that the police officer’s warrantless entry onto the property does not constitute an attack of the threat of an attack.
DeValkenaere’s attorneys further argue that it was Lamb’s decision to allegedly point a gun at Schwalm that resulted in his death and not the officers’ presence behind the house, regardless of whether that presence was legal.
Finally, the appeal argues that the armed criminal action conviction should be overturned if the court agrees to reverse Youngs’ decision to convict DeValkenaere for involuntary manslaughter.
Youngs subsequently ruled that DeValkenaere would remain free on bond despite his conviction while the appeal was pending.
The mothers of Lamb's three children have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against DeValkenaere and the KCPD Board of Police Commissioners.
A man filed a federal lawsuit in August against the police board and several officers, claiming that the department has changed its investigative practices in retaliation for DeValkenaere’s conviction and intimidated him.
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