Missouri attorney general seeks reversal of former detective’s conviction in Black man’s death
Jun 27, 2023, 12:04 PM | Updated: 12:24 pm
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — In an unusual legal move, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey is asking a state appeals court to reverse the conviction of a white former Kansas City police detective who shot and killed a Black man three years ago.
In a brief filed Monday, Bailey said the evidence presented at a trial in 2021 did not support Eric DeValkenaere’s conviction for second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the death of 26-year-old Cameron Lamb on Dec. 3, 2019.
Bailey asked the court to reverse DeValkenaere’s conviction or order a new trial.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, whose office secured DeValkenaere’s conviction, said the motion by the attorney general — the state’s top law enforcement officer — to challenge a conviction was “unprecedented” and an affront to the people of Kansas City.
In a news conference on Monday, she accused Bailey, a Republican who was appointed to the attorney general’s office in January, of “attempting to expand his power to that of a judge.”
“I can’t say in my time, 25 plus years of being here, that I’ve seen anything like this before,” Baker said.
Cameron Lamb’s father, Aqil Bey, said at the news conference that Bailey’s actions were a miscarriage of justice. He said DeValkanaere had been given every legal advantage, including not having to serve a day in jail since his conviction.
“We don’t feel good about it. But we are going to continue to let the legal system run its course, and we’ll see what happens,” Bey said.
Ben Trachtenberg, a University of Missouri School of Law professor and expert in criminal law, agreed that Bailey’s decision was unusual, noting the state’s attorney general’s office has a history of vigorously defending convictions, even in cases where the local prosecutor is trying to overturn a conviction.
Bailey’s predecessor, Eric Schmidt, who is now a Republican U.S. senator, strongly opposed efforts by Baker and former St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner to release two men — Kevin Strickland — who they believed were jailed for murders they didn’t commit. Both men were eventually released from prison.
Still, Trachtenberg said Bailey was within his authority in not defending DeValkenaere’s conviction.
“The attorney general’s office does have broad responsibility for dealing with criminal appeals,” he said. “But lawyers don’t have to defend every single case. The attorney general’s office’s highest duty is to pursue justice. If they think somebody is innocent, they don’t have to defend the conviction.”
DeValkenaere was convicted in November 2021 of killing Lamb, who was shot as he backed his truck into his garage. Police said DeValkenaere and his partner, Troy Schwalm, went to Lamb’s home after reports that Lamb was involved in a car chase with his girlfriend on residential streets.
Jackson County Circuit Court Presiding Judge J. Dale Youngs, who convicted the former detective after a bench trial, sentenced DeValkenaere to three years for involuntary manslaughter and six years for armed criminal action, with the sentences to run consecutively.
But Youngs later ruled that DeValkenaere could remain free while his conviction is appealed.
In his motion, Bailey said Lamb’s death was “tragic” and shouldn’t have happened. But he argued that DeValkenaere used reasonable force because he believed Lamb was going to shoot Schwalm. The motion, which includes several pages reiterating the police department’s version of events, said officers believed they saw Lamb with a handgun inside the truck, and a handgun was found near the truck after Lamb was shot.
“DeValkenaere’s use of force was reasonable in light of Mr. Lamb’s use of deadly force against Schwalm, and the court erred as a matter of fact and law in determining that Schwalm and DeValkenaere were the initial aggressors,” Bailey wrote. “DeValkenaere also was not criminally negligent.”
Prosecutors and Lamb’s family had alleged the handgun was planted after the shooting. But Youngs did not address that issue when he convicted the detective.
Instead, the judge said the officers had no probable cause to believe that any crime had been committed, had no warrant for Lamb’s arrest and had no search warrant or consent to be on the property. He said police were the initial aggressors and they had a duty to retreat, but DeValkenaere illegally used deadly force instead.
Rumors had swirled in the last month that Republican Gov. Mike Parson was considering pardoning or granting clemency to DeValkenaere, prompting Baker to send him a letter urging him not to do so. Civil rights advocates warned that releasing the former detective could cause unrest in the city and damage an already tense relationship between police and Kansas City’s minority community.
Parson said last week that he had not yet decided what action to take and criticized Baker for using the case for political purposes.
Ballentine reported from Columbia, Missouri.