FINALLY: Black Family Gets Imperfect, But Historic Justice

FINALLY: Black Family Gets Imperfect, But Historic Justice

A white cop still employed by the Kansas City Police Department in Missouri was convicted on Friday of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action after he shot and killed a Black man and planted evidence to justify his actions, prosecutors said. Detective Eric DeValkenaere, who has been suspended without pay, was convicted in a bench trial for the death of 26-year-old Cameron Lamb. Jackson County Judge Dale Youngs issued the ruling, making this the first time a white Kansas City cop has been charged for the death of a Black person since 1942, the Associated Press reported.

In that incident, an officer shot a Black man in the groin after his partner yelled, “kill the Black son of a _____,” a Kansas City Star columnist wrote. The cop and his partner then shot the man in the back, killing him, but a grand jury failed to indict the racists. DeValkenaere didn’t have the same fate, although the police department who has kept him employed for the last two years seems to be protecting him all the same.

Donna Drake, a spokeswoman for the police department, told The Kansas City Star DeValkenaere was “suspended without pay pending termination” after the verdict. She said a Notable Event Review Panel, which is an internal oversight committee of police officials, will make an administrative recommendation based on the panel’s findings.

Lamb, a father of three, was killed on Dec. 3, 2019 when he was shot twice backing into his garage. DeValkenaere and another detective had driven to Lamb’s house after police said he chased his girlfriend’s convertible while driving a stolen pickup truck. DeValkenaere testified in the trial covered by The Kansas City Star that he saw Lamb reach for a gun with his left hand and point toward DeValkenaere’s partner Troy Schwalm. Prosecutors said Lamb was unarmed at the time of the shooting and that the gun police referenced was actually kept inside a staircase near the garage.

Youngs said the case was tragic and that DeValkenaere and the officer on the scene with him escalated an already de-escalated situation. The judge said DeValkenaere acted with “criminal negligence” and without considering the “substantial and unjustifiable risks associated with his conduct.”

“The court is further compelled to find beyond a reasonable doubt that when defendant shot and killed Cameron Lamb, number one defendant was not acting in lawful self defense,” Youngs said. “Number two, defendant was not acting in lawful defense of Sergeant Schwalm, and three, it being considered that defendant and Sergeant Schwalm were not affecting an arrest of Cameron Lamb or preventing his escape after an arrest, that defendant did not lawfully utilize deadly force as a law enforcement officer under Missouri use-of-force laws applicable to such officers.”

Molly Hastings, an attorney for DeValkenaere, told The New York Times his lawyers “absolutely plan to appeal” the decision.

Laurie Bey, Lamb’s mother, said at a news conference that the ruling was overwhelming. “I miss my baby and this just did not have to be,” she said. “It did not have to be. My son was at his home and he was minding his own business when they took it upon themselves to go into the backyard. He was very needed not only to his family, but to the community.”

Media analyst and criminal defense lawyer Rebecca Kavanagh said in a tweet that the charges applied in the case don’t fully hold the detective accountable for his actions. “Some people are celebrating the verdict because it is the first time in 80 years a White cop has been held criminally responsible for the death of a Black man, but the charges here are wholly inadequate given the conduct of the cop,” Kavanagh tweeted. She said the charges carry a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Lee Merritt, a Texas attorney who spoke at the news conference on behalf of other relatives of Lamb, said we have a responsibility to continue to push to identify the failures of the Kansas City Police Department. “Today will not bring him back,” Merritt said of Lamb. “Justice is going to be short, but this is momentous. This is historic. And it means something.”

Merritt said the family is pursuing a federal civil rights claim against the police department. A coalition of nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and civil rights groups, urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the police department last July.

They wrote in a 15-page letter to Garland obtained by KCUR:

We believe strongly that a DOJ investigation is warranted for the following reasons:

1. High rate of excessive and deadly force incidents against Black and Latinx Kansas Citians.
2. Compelling evidence of constitutional violations, discriminatory patterns, and practices in policing, hiring and promotions, and the handling of community complaints.
3. Lack of accountability or an opportunity for redress because KCPD is governed by a state agency – not the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri, whose tax dollars fund the department.

Merritt said of the police department on Friday: “We plan to root out injustice within that system. We plan to identify the specific policies that facilitate one of the deadliest police cultures in the modern world. Kansas City will remember the name Cameron Lamb because he will be known as the beginning of the end of the deadliest police culture in the modern world.”

Published with permission from Daily Kos.

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