The governor of Missouri said he’s not presently considering pardoning the first Kansas City police officer to ever be found guilty of killing a Black man after rumors circulated that he was considering clemency.
This comes on the heels of a letter his office received urging him not to issue a pardon for Eric DeValkenaere, who was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and armed criminal action after he shot and killed 26-year-old Cameron Lamb at his home in 2019.
A four-day bench trial found DeValkenaere guilty of those two felonies in 2021. He was sentenced to spend six years in prison but remained free on an appeal bond that a judge granted after his attorneys filed an appeal request.
The appeals process for DeValkenaere is still underway in the courts more than a year after his sentencing.
Just this month, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker sent Parson a letter imploring Gov. Mike Parson not to pardon the former officer after hearing “numerous reports” that Parson was considering taking action. She included news of those rumors in her letter.
“I imagine you might view a pardon as a way to support police,” Peters Baker wrote Parson, who is a former sheriff. “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.”
She mentioned that a pardon at this time would dismiss the appeals process entirely and, more consequently, sow a lack of faith among the state’s citizens in the workings of Missouri’s criminal justice system.
“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. A pardon of this convicted former police officer will accelerate that distrust that we already see in our system,” Peters Baker 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 response to Peters Baker’s letter, the governor’s office released a statement accusing the prosecutor of playing “political games” and noting Parson’s serious and thorough consideration in the pardon process. As for his record, out of the 3,700 applications he’s received, he has only issued 538 pardons.
That statement, in part, read:It’s disappointing that the Jackson County Prosecutor would play political games when Governor Parson has a proven, bipartisan record of working to improve the criminal justice system as a whole. While the prosecutor tries to earn political points for her re-election bid, Governor Parson will continue working every day to support people across the state who are affected by crime.
Parson also spoke with local news outlets about Peters Baker’s letter and if he was considering DeValkenaere’s pardon which he denied.
“I’ve never even talked to the prosecutor. The first time I knew anything was when she sent a letter to our office. There’s been no application process. I’ve never talked to him or his legal team,” Parson said. “There is nothing in place that we’ve had the conversation about pardoning this guy. Nothing. So it’s just a lot of propaganda.”
DeValkenaere, who had served with the Kansas City Police Department since 1999, was the first white Kansas City officer to be convicted of killing a Black man. It’s believed that his trial was the first for a KCPD officer who killed someone in the line of duty since 1942.
Lamb was shot in a pickup truck on his own property by DeValkenaere. The father of three had been tracked to the property after a police helicopter observed him chasing his girlfriend as she sped away from him in her Mustang.
When officers arrived at Lamb’s home, DeValkenaere testified that another officer, Detective Troy Schwalm, commanded Lamb to step out of the vehicle. Schwalm recalled that Lamb’s hand was “splayed” out over the steering wheel.
DeValkenaere claimed that he saw Lamb starting to raise a gun toward Schwalm, so he shot Lamb in order to save his colleague’s life. Neither Lamb nor Schwalm fired a weapon.
There are conflicting accounts over whether Lamb even had a weapon, which was a central point of controversy for prosecutors during DeValkenaere’s trial. Some officers testified to seeing a gun, but others said they never saw a gun at the scene, including Schwalm.
Parson seemed to suggest Wednesday that prosecutors went too far in raising questions about whether police staged the shooting scene.
“I’ll be careful what I say here, but making the idea for a prosecutor to ever say that there could have been the possibility of a gun that was planted is a terrible decision for a prosecutor to ever make unless you have evidence to support that,” the governor told reporters during a stop at an event in Kansas City.
Police investigators did discover a gun on the garage floor below Lamb’s left hand, which was dangling out of the open driver’s side window.
Lamb’s roommate, Roberta Merritt, who was home at the time of the shooting, testified that Lamb did indeed own a gun and often kept it in the truck. However, the morning of the shooting, she spotted it on the garage steps when Lamb wasn’t home, not far from where investigators found it.
Prosecutors maintained that Lamb did not have a gun during the shooting and inquired after the notion that evidence was possibly manufactured and planted at the scene to ultimately exonerate DeValkenaere. They believe that he was holding his steering wheel with one hand and a cell phone in the other. There was even a voicemail on Lamb’s phone capturing DeValkenaere’s voice saying, “Keep your hands up” after Lamb placed a call shortly before he was fatally shot.