Freeing DeValkenaere on bond again would be ‘rare’ and ‘unprecedented,’ lawyers say

If a Missouri court again allows a former Kansas City police detective to go free pending an appeal of his conviction in the killing of a Black man, it would be a rare and controversial decision, according to attorneys and legal experts in the Kansas City area.

Eric J. DeValkenaere, who is white, has requested to be released on bond while he appeals his 2021 conviction to the Missouri Supreme Court.

That would follow another unusual decision by a Jackson County court to allow the former officer to remain free on bond for nearly two years while taking his case to an appeals court, which upheld his conviction last week. DeValkenaere, 44, had been found guilty at trial of second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the 2019 shooting death of 26-year-old Cameron Lamb.

DeValkenaere was picked up from the Platte County jail Wednesday and transported to a prison in St. Joseph to begin serving a six-year sentence. He now has pending both the request for bond at the appeals court and a clemency application at the Missouri governor’s office.

Criminal defense attorneys in the Kansas City area said an appeal bond for DeValkenaere would send a message that a double standard operated in the legal system: That a police officer convicted of committing a crime against a Black person will be treated more leniently than another person who commits a crime.

Most people appealing a conviction for a serious crime must do so from prison, they said.

Sean O’Brien, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who has worked as a public defender, said most people convicted of serious crimes are not allowed to remain free on bond while they appeal their case to a higher court.

“It’s somewhat atypical that a defendant is free pending an appeal,” O’Brien said. “Most defendants don’t have the means to file an appeal bond. And, so this is somewhat rare.”

Meanwhile, civil rights and activist groups across Missouri joined in opposing clemency or a pardon for the former officer.

Appeal bond requested for Eric DeValkenaere

Gary Witt, the chief judge of the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District in Kansas City, signed the arrest warrant for DeVakenaere after the court upheld his conviction on Oct. 17.

Witt may also be the one to decide whether DeValkenaere will be freed pending the next appeal.

Deciding to release DeValkenaere again would be “rare and unprecedented,” said Arimeta DuPree, an attorney and former public defender who has represented over 50 criminal defendants charged with either manslaughter or homicide.

“I don’t have or know of any other criminal defendant who’s been convicted of homicide or manslaughter who has been released on an appeal bond or who’s been granted an appeal bond. So, this is really unprecedented,” DuPree said.

Eric DeValkenaere testifies during his trial on Nov. 10, 2021, at the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City.
Eric DeValkenaere testifies during his trial on Nov. 10, 2021, at the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City.

If the Court of Appeals turns down his request to be released on bond, DeValkenaere could ask the Missouri Supreme Court to consider his motion, she said.

DuPree said depending on the court’s schedule it might take months for it to decide whether to hear or rule on the bond request.

Craig M. Divine, a criminal defense attorney, said releasing a person a second time while pursuing a new appeal would be even more rare and controversial.

“It certainly would be unusual for it to get the bond reinstated and for him to be released again,” Divine said.

“It would mean for the community . . . that you would have a lot of people who would be very upset, who feel like a man who’s been convicted and had that conviction upheld would still be free and not having to do any time in custody,” he said.

“At the same time, if you or I were convicted of what he had been convicted of, we would be in custody while the appeal worked its way through and be serving our sentence. So he’s already had a certain amount of professional courtesy extended to him. At some point that probably runs out,” Divine said.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs speaks during the trial of Eric DeValkenaere at the Jackson County Circuit Court Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs speaks during the trial of Eric DeValkenaere at the Jackson County Circuit Court Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

Previous decision, new request anger Cameron Lamb’s family

The guilty verdict against DeValkenaere in 2021 marked the first time a Kansas City police officer was convicted in the killing of a Black man.

In an unexpected and rare move, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs, after finding DeValkenaere guilty at a bench trial, allowed him to remain free on bond while he appealed the conviction.

Prosecutors argued against the appeal bond, saying DeValkenaere should be treated no differently from other criminal defendants who were found guilty. They said at the time that he should not be “rewarded with a special status because of his former employment.”

Local attorneys said the release on bond pending appeal was so uncommon that they would not ask for it. Some lawyers said they thought that a defendant of color or without financial means would be unlikely to get the same result.

Bonds are normally increased or revoked after a defendant is convicted because they become a flight risk.

Relatives of Lamb and community activists said they were angry with that decision in 2021. And they were upset all over again with the new request last week.

Laurie Bey, mother of Cameron Lamb, speaks at an Oct. 18 news conference in Kansas City.
Laurie Bey, mother of Cameron Lamb, speaks at an Oct. 18 news conference in Kansas City.

“That shouldn’t happen,” Lamb’s mother Laurie Bey said at a rally in support of her family last week outside the Jackson County courthouse.

“My son was killed December the 3rd, 2019 ... Up until yesterday, (DeValkenaere) had not served a day in jail. I just don’t understand why do they continue to keep giving this man that killed an innocent man passes. Make it make sense to me. Make it make sense. It does not make sense.”

Steve Young, a co-founder of the Kansas City Law Enforcement Accountability Project, or KC LEAP, was among those who said releasing DeValkenaere again would further reduce trust between Black people and police.

“We continue to see how important a disgraced detective’s life is when it comes to this system,” Young said.

“The more the community sees this play out, the more of a wedge it puts between the cops and us. The more distrust we have for the process.

“The clearer the picture becomes that our lives don’t matter. Not a single one of them believes in the rule of law. This is a two-tiered justice on display right in front of our eyes. KCPD will never have the trust of the community.”

Missouri groups oppose clemency

Johnathan Shiflett, a spokesperson for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, said in an email to The Star Tuesday that DeValkenaere’s family attorneys submitted a request for clemency to Parson’s office.

The office has also received “hundreds of additional calls and requests from private citizens on his behalf,” he said.

“Governor Parson has made no decision regarding clemency for Mr. DeValkenaere at this time,” the email said. Shiflett said the clemency request was a closed record and he could not provide The Star with a copy.

A statewide coalition of civil rights organizations on Wednesday pleaded with Parson to reject the petition.

The letter was signed by the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, Decarcerate KC, the Urban Summit in Kansas City, Action St. Louis, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, Metropolitan Congregations United and the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity or MORE2.

In their letter to Parson, the groups said: “Granting such a pardon would critically damage the already diminishing trust between our community and the justice system, endangering the well-being and safety of Kansas City’s residents and the larger Missouri community.

“The oath and responsibility of the Governor is to uphold the rule of law and protect the human and civil rights of citizens, rather than usurping the rule of law by pardoning those duly and justly convicted of violent crimes against Black people, no matter the presence of a uniform or badge.”