KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The trial for a Kansas City, Missouri, police detective charged with the shooting death of a Black man began Monday morning.
Det. Eric Devalkenaere requested a bench trial, meaning a judge — instead of a jury — will determine his fate.
Devalkenaere is charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the deadly shooting of 26-year-old Cameron Lamb. Both sides painted very different pictures of the man on the first day of arguments.
On Monday, prosecutors began presenting their case against the Kansas City police detective. Evidence focused on video, pictures and eyewitness testimony to build a timeline of what happened in the minutes leading up to the deadly shooting. They also showed body camera video of the moments before the shooting.
DeValkenaere’s defense argues it happened after Lamb drove recklessly through residential areas – attracting the attention of police. According to court documents, Det. Troy Schwalm and DeValkenaere were in the area of 41st and College when they were dispatched to a traffic incident on Dec. 3, 2019. The officers were in plain clothes, neither wore a uniform.
Court documents also say neither officer asked for permission to go on the property.
Schwalm went up the driveway and came across another man, who wasn’t Lamb, in the backyard. Lamb was driving his pickup into the garage.
DeValkenaere said he could see both of Lamb’s hands from his position. The detective said his right hand was on the steering wheel and, according to the jury’s affidavit, DeValkenaere saw Lamb slide his left hand down into his waistband, pull a gun and point it at Schwalm.
Court documents say DeValkenaere fired four bullets that hit the windshield of Lamb’s pickup truck. Two hit Lamb, killing him.
Defense attorneys say his actions were a part of the job.
“From where Eric [DeValkenaere] stood – what he saw was Cameron Lamb pulling a gun on his partner,” Molly Hasting, who gave opening statements for the defense, said.
Later in the trial DeValkenaere’s partner would tell attorneys that he did not see Lamb holding a gun but that his vantage point was different from DeValkenaere’s.
Prosecutors argue Lamb was targeted recklessly by police, and immediately after his death, was planted with a gun and other objects. An initial search of Lamb found cash and non-gun related items, according to attorneys for the state.
“However, your honor, in addition to the same items found by crime scene technicians mostly at the scene, this time, in the morgue, two live rounds are found in Cameron Lamb’s pocket,” Tim Dollar, assistant Jackson County prosecutor, said.
“Careful and responsible police officers protect our citizens in their own homes. Careless and irresponsible police officers shoot our citizens in their own homes,” Dollar said.
The defense says that the theory pushed forward involving a planted gun is dependent on unreliable testimony that has changed over time.
“Eric did not know Cameron Lamb. Eric did not want to have to shoot him. And Eric is innocent,” Hastings said.
Before arguments started it was immediately clear that capacity in the courtroom would be an issue with Lamb’s supporters arguing they were not getting as much seating as DeValkenaere’s side.
Reducing seating due to COVID-19 protocols further as cranked tension with court staff acting like ushers.
“If the deputy is asking you to leave the courtroom, you leave the courtroom please. Don’t get into this with me please,” Judge J. Dale Youngs said at one point when a member of the gallery ignored social-distancing rules.
A continuing argument in this trial will be whether Lamb had a gun during the shooting. Witnesses are expected to address the issue later this week. A woman who Lamb lived with claims she saw his gun on the stairs after he had left the home, but before he was killed. The state argues this shows Lamb did not have a gun with him during his interaction with police.