Family members of Cameron Lamb are outraged with Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith’s description of him as a “bad guy” minutes after he was fatally shot by a police detective, saying the comment illustrates larger issues with police culture that need to be addressed.
Now convicted Det. Eric DeValkenaere shot and killed Lamb, 26, while he was backing his pickup into his garage on Dec. 3, 2019 at 4154 College Ave. DeValkenaere was found guilty earlier this month of second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the killing.
The chief arrived at the crime scene shortly after the shooting unfolded. An audio recording recently obtained by The Star through a public records request captured Smith saying: “Everyone is good, house is clear. Bad guy’s dead.”
Laurie Bey, Lamb’s mother, said she was “shocked” to hear her son described that way by Kansas City’s top cop. She said the gut reaction that Lamb was a bad guy demonstrates that Kansas City police are all too willing to immediately accept as fact the early accounts of other officers in police shootings.
She also said that characterization of her son could not be further from the truth. To his loved ones, Lamb was a great father, son and brother, she said.
“I truly felt like he tried to dehumanize my son,” Bey told The Star during an interview Tuesday as she recalled first learning of the chief’s comment.
The audio recording was captured from the open radio of an officer who stood near Smith at the crime scene. A source close to the investigation confirmed to The Star that Smith had made the remark.
In an email to The Star, police spokesman Sgt. Jacob Becchina said the department would not comment because the case is still being adjudicated. He said disclosure of the video could risk a violation of the Sunshine Law.
“The video you reference was not provided by KCPD,” Becchina said, “as such anything on it cannot be authenticated by us.”
The words were salt on an open wound for Lamb’s loved ones. DeValkenaere’s trial concluded less than three weeks ago, when Lamb’s character was repeatedly denigrated by the defense team, Bey said. The family is still awaiting the sentencing hearing. And the anniversary of the shooting is only a few days away.
“All of this is coming at a bad time,” Bey said.
DeValkenaere, 43, was convicted on Nov. 19 following a five-day bench trial in Jackson County. During the trial, his defense team portrayed the shooting as an act of heroism where he saved the life of his partner by fatally shooting Lamb shortly after they arrived at his property while investigating a vehicle chase.
But prosecutors argued Lamb was actually unarmed during the encounter, contradicting the official police narrative. They said DeValkenaere and his partner had no legal right to be there, and their presence was a violation of Lamb’s constitutional rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, which defines lawful searches and seizures.
In announcing the verdict, Jackson County Judge J. Dale Youngs said neither DeValkenaere nor his partner, Troy Schwalm, had the right to walk onto the property to investigate the earlier vehicle chase.
Speaking to The Star, Aqil Bey, Lamb’s stepfather, recalled a comment made during trial concerning the action taken by DeValkenaere as being reflective of what any other police officer would do in the same situation. If that is the case, he said, then there will be more illegal killings of the same nature because the police chief “is going to back” his officers no matter what.
“It’s accepted in the culture that exists in that police department. I’m not saying all officers (are) like that. But you’ve got some that are,” Aqil Bey said, adding that the comment about Lamb was “unbecoming” of Smith as the police chief.
On Monday, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners confirmed that Smith will retire in spring 2022, several months earlier than what he had previously told the board in private. The Star reported last week that Smith was being forced out as leader of the department following DeValkenaere’s conviction.
Laurie Bey referenced Smith’s upcoming departure and the way the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners have thanked him for his service. She questioned the praise given to Smith by the police board, saying she wonders if they still believe he did a good job.
“Make it make sense to me,” Laurie Bey said.