KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A judge on Friday convicted a white Kansas City police officer of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the fatal shooting of a Black man, in a case in which prosecutors said police planted evidence.
Jackson County Judge Dale Youngs issued the bench ruling against Officer Eric DeValkenaere in the death of Cameron Lamb, 26. Lamb was shot while backing into his garage on Dec. 3, 2019, after chasing his girlfriend’s convertible in a stolen pickup truck.
DeValkenaere testified during the trial that he fired after Lamb pointed a gun at another detective, Troy Schwalm, and that he believed his actions saved the life of his partner. On the stand, DeValkenaere said: “I’m thinking, ‘I can’t let this happen, I can’t let him shoot Troy.’”
Prosecutors, however, argued that police lacked a warrant to be on the property and staged the shooting scene to support their claims that Lamb was armed. Before he was shot, prosecutors said, Lamb had his left hand on the truck’s steering wheel and his cellphone in his right hand.
Another officer who was the first to arrive at the scene after the shooting testified during the trial that he didn’t see a gun on the ground below Lamb’s left arm, which was hanging out of the window of the truck. Later, though, a gun was there in police photographs.
Two bullets were found in Lamb’s pockets at the morgue, but crime scene technicians didn’t find them at the scene. And prosecutors also raised questions about whether Lamb, who was right-handed, could have used his left hand to pull a gun due to an earlier injury. The defense argued that he could have.
The verdict came after a bench trial, which was held before the judge without a jury at DeValkenaere’s request.
The killing of Lamb, a father of three, was often invoked during racial injustice protests in Kansas City last year. And it was among several cases cited by a group of civil rights organizations in a petition urging U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the Kansas City Police Department. The indictment in the case came days after Lamb’s death garnered renewed attention stemming from his family’s meeting with then-President Donald Trump in 2020.
In the past year, prosecutors have brought criminal charges against five white Kansas City police officers for allegedly using excessive force against Black people. DeValkenaere was the only officer charged in an on-duty killing.
An earlier version of this story was corrected by deleting a reference to the case marking the first time a white Kansas City police officer was charged in the death of a Black person. Such a case happened in 1942.
Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press