KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, police detective who shot and killed Cameron Lamb on Dec. 3, 2019, took the stand in his own defense Wednesday in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Det. Eric DeValkenaere was indicted by a grand jury in June 2020 and charged with involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action for shooting Lamb, a 26-year-old father of three, as he attempted to back a red pickup truck into the garage of a house in the 4100 block of College Avenue.
DeValkenaere wasn’t on the original witness list for the case, but he took the stand Wednesday morning for several hours of testimony after a brief sidebar with Presiding Judge Dale Youngs.
He denied planting evidence or asking anyone else to plant evidence or alter reports, rebutting earlier assertions by the prosecution that questioned aspects of KCPD’s investigation.
DeValkenaere burst into tears, briefly bowed his head to gather himself and paused several more times when asked to explain the decision to shoot Lamb. He said he didn’t open fire when he first saw the gun, but decided to shoot only after Lamb started to raise the gun toward Det. Troy Schwalm and offered a technical description of the shooting.
“My focus moves from that weapon to the center of his chest. I bring my weapon from this position,” he said with his hands clutched his chest as if holding the gun, “and drive it towards him. As I acquire the front side, I discharge a round to his center mass.”
During cross examination, prosecutors focused less on the shooting itself and more on how DeValkenaere and Schwalm came to be on the property in the first place.
DeValkenaere admitted that he didn’t have any probable cause that a violent crime had occurred when he joined Schwalm, who also was a detective with the Violent Offenders Unit at the time, to investigate the red truck that day.
The foundation of the case against DeValkenaere is that his conduct that day constituted an unconstitutional search, making it criminal because of the reckless manner in which it unfolded.
DeValkenaere admitted that he didn’t know anything about the argument earlier in the day Lamb had with his ex-girlfriend, Shanice Reed. He also didn’t know Lamb owned a gun or that the truck was stolen.
DeValkenaere acknowledged that there was no active police pursuit of Lamb and there was no evidence he’d committed any crimes beyond traffic infractions, for which KCPD policy prevents officers from initiating a chase.
While DeValkenaere claimed Lamb’s actions — he’d been spotted chasing Reed’s purple Mustang at high speeds by another detective — constituted a “dangerous situation,” prosecutors questioned why he didn’t attempt to stop the red truck earlier.
DeValkenaere had witnessed Lamb’s truck run a red light and Lamb drove past him a second time in the Blue Valley Market parking lot several minutes later, but he never attempted to make contact and didn’t radio for help from uniformed officers.
Furthermore, when DeValkenaere entered the property where Lamb lived and was killed, he admitted doing so without a warrant or permission, without probable cause to believe a violent crime had been committed and with no information that weapons had been involved in Lamb’s chase of Reed.
DeValkenaere countered that “an officer of my experience” had “reasonable suspicion” to believe a crime had occurred or was occurring, which justified the decision to continue investigating the red truck.
“Reasonable suspicion” is a different legal standard than probable cause, which requires concrete evidence and often is used as the basis for a search warrant.
Prosecutors asked if DeValkenaere ever considered calling for backup or de-escalating the backyard encounter with Lamb after realizing he was still in the truck and not on foot as the police helicopter had erroneously suggested.
“Not in the 9 seconds I was back there prior to discharging the weapon,” DeValkenaere said.
Still, prosecutors contend DeValkenaere ignored other options to reassess or deescalate the situation before the fatal encounter with Lamb, while he suggested that he had no choice after Schwalm went into the backyard.
“I’m going to follow Det. Schwalm in there and not leave him there by himself,” DeValkenaere said. He later added, “As all officers in my situation would have done — yes, sir.”
DeValkenaere’s version of events
DeValkenaere testified that he didn’t know Lamb and the name wasn’t familiar to him before the shooting.
He said on the morning of Dec. 3, 2019, he and other detectives with the Violent Offenders Unit were conducting surveillance on a residence in the area of East 31st Street and Kensington Avenue after receiving a tip about possible heroin distribution.
DeValkenaere was sitting in his vehicle at the Happy Foods when a two-vehicle injury crash happened near East 39th Street and Cleveland Avenue.
He responded to the scene and comforted a woman who was seriously injured after her vehicle was struck by a vehicle driving at a high rate of speed.
The incident wasn’t connected to Lamb, but DeValkenaere was in the area when Det. Adam Hill, another member of the Violent Offenders Unit, reported seeing a red truck chasing a purple Mustang at a high rate of speed.
DeValkenaere testified that he witnessed Lamb run a red light at East 45th Street and Cleveland while going in the opposite direction, but never saw the Mustang and never saw a weapon.
He lost sight of the truck as he turned around to follow the truck with help from the police helicopter overhead that was tracking it.
Lamb passed DeValkenaere again a short time later while cutting through the Blue Valley Market parking lot near East 43rd Street and Cleveland.
DeValkenaere continued to follow Lamb’s truck, but again lost sight of it after Lamb turned on College Avenue to head home.
Instead, DeValkenaere went past College and turned north on Benton Boulevard.
Around that time, KCPD Officer Eric Valentine, who was the tactical flight officer in the police helicopter overhead, incorrectly radioed that the driver of the red truck had exited the vehicle and suggested it would be a good time to make an arrest if any officers were in the area.
Schwalm, who also was zeroing in on Lamb’s residence guided by the helicopter, radioed that he would respond and asked DeValkenaere to meet him at the residence on College Avenue.
After agreeing to join Schwalm, DeValkenaere put on his ballistic vest. Schwalm passed DeValkenaere when turning south on College to approach the house, parking his blue unmarked Chevrolet Impala in the driveway on the south side of the house.
Schwalm had already exited the vehicle — with his service weapon drawn, he testified Monday — and was halfway down the driveway before DeValkenaere pulled up in front of the house in an unmarked black GMC Sierra. He also exited the vehicle and drew his gun before heading down the north side of the house, opposite of Schwalm.
“We didn’t know exactly what we were walking into,” DeValkenaere said.
DeValkenaere said he asked a woman on the porch of the house — Roberta Merritt, who testified Tuesday — if she knew who was driving the truck.
He said she said she didn’t and that he never pointed his gun at her and gave her instructions.
Merritt, who lived at the house with Lamb, previously testified that he pointed a gun at her, told her “don’t move” and asked how many people were in the backyard.
DeValkenaere conceded he didn’t ask Merritt’s permission to enter the property, adding there was no time to seek a warrant and that he had a duty to provide backup to Schwalm.
“I was going back there regardless of what Miss Roberta had said,” DeValkenaere said.
Lamb’s last 9 seconds
DeValkenaere said he went to the north side of the house in anticipation that the suspect might try to run.
“I wanted to take away the other possible avenue of escape,” he said.
DeValkenaere’s path initially was blocked by a barbecue grill that served as a makeshift fence, but he could see Lamb in the red truck backing up toward the house at that point.
He said Lamb’s right hand was on the right side of the steering wheel and his left hand was up in the air but closer to his chest at that time.
He also could see Schwalm, who was telling Lamb to put the truck in park and exit the vehicle, and also spotted Nicholas King in the backyard.
“I decided to kick the grill down to get by, because there was no way to get over it quickly,” DeValkenaere said.
With Lamb not complying to Schwalm’s commands, DeValkenaere said he also began echoing those commands, though he doesn’t believe they were acknowledged.
“I don’t remember seeing him ever turn his focus towards me at all,” DeValkenaere said.
After moving past the grill, DeValkenaere said he could see into the cab of the truck through the passenger window rather than rear window and watched Lamb lean toward the passenger seat and move his hand toward his lap.
Initially, he thought he was trying to hide something, but DeValkenaere noticed “a full-size polymer pistol” in his left hand between his legs and under the steering wheel when he straightened up again.
DeValkenaere said he didn’t raise his weapon at the point, because Lamb “posed no threat” and he thought he planned to hide the gun under the seat. DeValkenaere added “my focus is obviously the weapon at that point.”
DeValkenaere began to cry as he described what happened next. He said when Lamb started to bring his left hand up between the steering wheel and the door, he made the “conscious decision” to open fire.
He said he aimed for “center mass” and fired four shots, one of which hit Lamb in the upper left chest and killed him. Another bullet hit Lamb in the right leg.
“I remember thinking, ‘No, this can’t happen. I can’t let this happen,’” DeValkenaere said.
“You can’t let him shoot Troy?” defense attorney Molly Hastings asked.
“Right,” DeValkenaere said before grabbing a Kleenex to dab more tears from his eyes.
Neither Lamb nor Schwalm fired a shot during the encounter, which lasted 9 seconds from the time DeValkenaere ran down the hill, kicked over the grill, saw Lamb reach for a gun and shot him.
“I wouldn’t have shot Cameron Lamb, if he hadn’t presented a weapon to Det. Schwalm,” DeValkenaere said.
After the shooting, DeValkenaere said the truck rolled into the subterranean garage, but he never heard a gun — later found underneath Lamb’s left arm outside the driver’s side window, according to the KCPD investigation — hit the ground.
He said he never went into the garage, but using the flashlight on his service weapon could see that Lamb’s right hand was extended in front of him inside the steering wheel and he was slumped over against the driver’s side door.
DeValkenaere said he couldn’t see Lamb’s left hand, which was obscured by the truck, but he started to go through through a checklist based on his training — checking on Schwalm and making sure he secured King, performing a “tactical reload” to “improve the condition” of his weapon by swapping out the used clip with a full one, and reminding himself to breathe.
Under cross examination, DeValkenaere said he couldn’t explain why he shouted “keep your hands up” on a voicemail that captured the aftermath of the shooting.
He had earlier testified that Lamb had both hands up when he first saw him from behind sitting in the truck, but later saw Lamb retrieve a gun from his waistband and raise it toward Schwalm before killing him.
Prosecutors also questioned DeValkenaere’s radio traffic after the shooting.
Responding to a question about if anyone else was at-large, DeValkenaere identified himself by his badge number and said, “Nobody over here. When we arrived here, the lady in pink was telling us that the Mustang had been over here and there was a situation involving guns.”
Merritt, the lady in pink, and DeValkenaere both testified that no such conversation took place.
Rather, DeValkenaere said he overheard Merritt tell other officers at the scene about the encounter with Reed on the street after he’d been relieved from behind the house.
He admitted that the comment was inaccurate, but suggested that he was “a mess” after the shooting and misspoke: “I’m not doing a very good job communicating at that point still.”
Prosecutors also raised issues with DeValkenaere’s formal statement. It was given 49 hours after the shooting at KCPD Headquarters, which is in line with the union contract.
When he was asked what he did to prepare for giving his statement, DeValkenaere replied, “I don’t know who thought that was a good idea to ask that question. That was dumb.”
He later said questions from investigators were “getting ridiculous.”
Prosecutors also raised the issue of a suppressed statement DeValkenaere obtained from a suspect in a 2006 case.
The judge ruled that DeValkenaere was not to be believed and had violated the unnamed suspect’s right to counsel and against self-incrimination.
Despite that finding, DeValkenaere has been called to testify in trials, hearings and grand jury proceedings “probably 250-plus times” in Jackson County court.
His defense pointed out that he was subpoenaed to testify as recently as May 2021 in a firearms case from 2018.
Both cases discussed resulted in guilty pleas.
Short day in court
Before DeValkenaere took the stand, Dillon Phillips — a former KCPD tactical response officer who now works as a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive in California — testified Wednesday morning.
He is the officer who police said stepped on the gun beneath Lamb’s hand to pin it to the floor when the team clearing the garage checked the body for signs of life.
“Once it was determined that there were no signs of life and we weren’t going to be moving him at that time, I lifted my foot off the gun,” Phillips said.
He later told Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Benjamin Cox on cross examination that he also saw a magazine, which was disconnected from the pistol, on the garage floor.
DeVallkenare’s defense decided not to call their witness who was scheduled to testify Wednesday afternoon, so Youngs ended the day’s proceedings early.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. on Friday with the defense expected to call two more witnesses before closing statements are given, but Youngs is not expected to rule immediately after trial proceedings end.
The courthouse is closed Thursday in observance of Veterans Day.
It is believed that DeValkenaere is the first KCPD officer to stand trial for a deadly on-duty shooting in the city's history.
He and the KCPD Board of Police Commissioners are also defendants in the Lamb's family wrongful death civil lawsuit.
KSHB 41 News Reporter Andres Gutierrez contributed to this report.
For jurisdictions that utilize the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers Tips Hotline, anonymous tips can be made by calling 816-474-TIPS (8477), submitting the tip online or through the free mobile app at P3Tips.com.