Gov. Parson, don’t undermine rule of law by pardoning ex-KCPD officer for manslaughter | Opinion

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In a letter that Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has written to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, she begs him not to pardon former Kansas City Police detective Eric DeValkenaere, who was convicted of manslaughter in November of 2021.

That the governor is even thinking of doing so is shocking, for one thing because Parson so often points to a conviction as a reason not to show mercy to the innocent.

If Parson does pardon DeValkenaere, the only KCPD officer ever to be convicted in the shooting death of a Black man, it will provide more evidence, at a particularly fraught time, that the rule of law does not apply to everybody.

If Parson does pardon DeValkenaere, who shot 26-year-old Cameron Lamb in his own backyard, just nine seconds after arriving at his home, in response to a report that Lamb had been speeding, it will further undermine trust in our system.

And, as Baker points out in her letter, it will not help the KCPD, either.

Letter from Jackson County Prosecutor by Ian Cummings on Scribd

“DeValkenaere was fairly convicted and sentenced under Missouri law,” she wrote. “Your pardon would preempt Attorney General (Andrew) Bailey’s defense of this conviction and subvert the rule of law. The appellate process has not yet concluded.

“I am aware that you have been lobbied to pardon this officer, even before his trial. I imagine you might view a pardon as a way to support police. But I expect this extreme action for the only KCPD officer convicted of fatally shooting a Black man will ignite distrust, protests, and public safety concerns for citizens and for police.

“The most significant threat to public safety will not come from community protests. Perhaps the greater long-term harm will be an erosion of our public safety system as fair and just

Already, she wrote, “witnesses don’t want to testify, and victims decline to prosecute their attackers, even after suffering great injury. This distrust will only grow when you, as overseer of KCPD, choose a political action over the legal process.”

In the letter, Baker said no one in the governor’s or AG’s office has ever reached out to Lamb’s family.

Aren’t they supposed to be all about supporting victims? Or does that not apply evenly, either?

Lamb’s loved ones “deserve better,” Baker wrote, and also urged the governor to “convene a public meeting in Kansas City regarding your proposed actions. Kansas Citians deserve to be heard.”

They do, though based on his past actions, Parson would never do that.

Cameron Lamb holding cellphone when shot

At DeValkenaere’s trial, the former detective testified that he had no choice but to shoot Lamb in December of 2019, after seeing him pull a gun from his waistband with his left hand and point it at his partner, Troy Schwalm: “I remember thinking no … this can’t happen, I can’t let this happen.”

Schwalm, who was standing right in front of Lamb’s truck as he was backing it into his basement garage, did not see a gun. In fact, according to prosecutors, Schwalm previously said that he saw that there was no gun in Lamb’s left hand. Lamb was not only right-handed, but had limited use of his left hand after he was shot in the index finger in 2015.

Lamb’s roommate, Roberta Merritt, testified that she had seen Lamb’s gun on the basement steps a few feet from where the shooting occurred, right before police arrived. And if that’s true, then prosecutors are right that the gun found just underneath Lamb’s left arm, which was hanging out his truck window when he died, was planted there.

Phone records show he was also on a call, on the cellphone in his right hand, at the time he was shot.

Unless Cameron had three hands, someone else put the gun where it was supposedly found.

The first officer who arrived at the scene after the shooting testified that he didn’t see any gun either, but added that his view might have been blocked by his protective shield.

Prosecutors couldn’t prove the scene was staged, but didn’t have to, since DeValkenaere was only charged with involuntary manslaughter — an unintentional killing that results either from recklessness or criminal negligence.

Running into a man’s backyard in the middle of the day, with guns drawn, based on nothing more than a report that he’d been driving way too fast, was certainly reckless.

The prosecutor, Tim Dollar, kept saying in court that DeValkenaere had violated Lamb’s rights by going onto private property without a warrant, without permission and without probable cause. DeValkenaere kept saying that he had a duty to go in anyway because “we had a reasonable suspicion that crime was afoot.”

He had to go in, too, he said, because his fellow officer already had, and “I’m not going to leave him in there by himself.” If he had stopped to get a warrant, what crime would it even have been for, Dollar asked him, in one of the most important exchanges of the trial.

DeValkenaere said he didn’t know. “That’s why we didn’t” get a warrant. That he not only didn’t get a warrant, but couldn’t have, was hardly exculpatory.

Governor: ‘Bad guy is dead’

After Lamb was shot, it was 14 minutes before paramedics already at the scene were allowed to get to him, and he had bled to death by then. Prosecutors suggested that police used that time to rearrange the scene.

Audio of then-Police Chief Rick Smith showed that just minutes after the shooting, he’d already decided that whatever had happened was just fine, as always: “Everybody’s good,” Smith said. “House is clear. Bad guy is dead.”

According to Smith, anybody shot by police must have been a bad guy. Against that backdrop, that deficit of trust, it’s especially important that Parson not make things worse between the community and police, and for the community and the police.

DeValkenaere waived his right to a jury trial, so it was up to Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs to decide whether he recklessly caused Lamb’s death. He was found guilty and sentenced to six years, but in a ruling that Youngs himself said was highly unusual, he was also allowed to stay free while appealing his case,

Recently, AG Bailey, who is close to and was appointed by Parson, defied Court of Appeals District Chief Judge Gary Witt once again, failing for a sixth time to file a response to DeValkenaere’s October 2022 appeal.

If he can’t bring himself to do his duty, Parson may intervene, and make sure that his protégé never has to.

But that, too, would be reckless, and we hope that Parson decides instead to let the legal process he claims to revere play out in the courts.