A Missouri police detective was convicted Friday of the death of a black man who was fatally shot in 2019 while sitting in a pickup truck in front of his home, a notable decision given the rarity of convictions for homicides committed during service by police officers.
Judge J. Dale Youngs ruled that the detective, Eric J. DeValkenaere of the Kansas City Police Department, had no reason to go to the property of Cameron Lamb, 26, who was shot twice as he returned to his garage on December 3. , 2019. Detective DeValkenaere, 43, and another detective had driven to Mr. Lamb’s home after receiving a report of a traffic incident involving the truck Mr. Lamb was driving.
But they did not have a warrant and had no reason to believe a crime had been committed when they ran into Mr. Lamb’s backyard and confronted him, argued Jackson County prosecutors, who also suggested during the trial that police had placed You test the scene to make it look like Mr. Lamb has a gun.
Judge Youngs rejected Detective DeValkenaere’s claim that he believed Lamb was going to shoot his partner and convicted the officer of second-degree manslaughter and armed criminal action, a charge that carries a minimum sentence of three years in prison. While ruling, Judge Youngs said Detective DeValkenaere had put himself in a position where he could harm someone.
Detective DeValkenaere, who is white, and his partner were the “initial assailants in the encounter with Cameron Lamb on December 3, 2019, and they had a duty to withdraw from the encounter under the circumstances,” Judge Youngs said.
After the decision, Detective DeValkenaere, who has worked for the Kansas City Police Department for about 20 years, was “suspended without pay pending dismissal,” said Officer Donna Drake, a department spokeswoman.
Molly Hastings, the detective’s attorney, said they “absolutely plan to appeal” Judge Youngs’ decision.
Laurie Bey, Mr. Lamb’s mother, cried after the verdict and said she was happy and overwhelmed by the judge’s decision.
“But I miss my baby, and this just didn’t have to be this way,” Bey told reporters. “My son was at home and minding his own business when they took it upon himself to go to the backyard.”
The conviction came the same day a jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin, acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of murder and other charges.
Rittenhouse, 18, who shot and wounded two men last year amid protests and riots over police conduct, had argued that he was acting in self-defense. Legal analysts said that by charging Rittenhouse with manslaughter, prosecutors created an uphill battle to show the jury that Rittenhouse failed to act out of reasonable fear that his life was in danger.
In Missouri, prosecutors focused on detectives’ decision to enter private property even though there was no evidence of a crime and they did not have a search warrant.
Mr. Lamb, a father of three young children who ran a home auto repair business, was driving a red pickup truck. He and his girlfriend had been involved in a dispute, and a police helicopter saw the van following their car at high speed.
Detective DeValkenaere and his associate, Troy Schwalm, approached Mr. Lamb’s address. By then, prosecutors said, the situation had calmed down. Lamb had stopped speeding and was heading home, said Michael Mansur, a spokesman for the Jackson County Attorney’s Office.
Detective DeValkenaere and Detective Schwalm arrived in separate vehicles and approached the house.
As Mr. Lamb backed into the garage, Detective DeValkenaere, who testified in his own defense, said he stood to the side of the truck and saw Mr. Lamb slide his left hand down his body, put his hand into the waist and pulled out a pistol. which pointed to Detective Schwalm. Detective DeValkenaere fired his gun four times, hitting Mr. Lamb twice.
During the trial, prosecutors suggested that evidence was placed to make it appear that Lamb had a weapon. Two bullets were found in Mr. Lamb’s pockets at the morgue even though that evidence was not recorded at the crime scene, prosecutors said.
In his ruling, Judge Youngs did not address the theory that evidence was planted. Instead, it examined officers’ decision to confront Mr. Lamb at his home, when they had no probable cause for approaching him or stepping on his property.
“The court concludes that this conduct was a serious deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in this situation and constituted criminal negligence,” the judge said.
Mansur, the spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said that by charging the detective with involuntary manslaughter rather than murder, prosecutors diverted the focus from the “split-second decision” that officers often say they must make when face a life or -death situation.
The prosecution’s argument became simpler as to whether the officers had violated Mr. Lamb’s Fourth Amendment right to be safe on his property and created a situation where someone could be harmed as a result of those actions.
Jean Peters Baker, the Jackson County prosecutor, said the case had involved “many sleepless nights.”
“There is a grim tone that comes with every verdict,” Baker told reporters after the verdict. “Someone misses someone at the dining room table and then there is another person facing punishment for the damage that has been done.”
He said prosecutors had sought a “fair outcome.”
“I think that’s where we are today,” Baker said. Mr. Lamb’s family has asked the Justice Department to investigate the Kansas City Police Department and is suing the agency in federal court.
Officer Drake, the Kansas City police spokeswoman, said in a statement that “every shooting involving a detective is difficult not only for members of the community, but also for members of the Police Department.”
“We acknowledge the court’s decision,” he said.