KC police chief called Cameron Lamb ‘bad guy.' Here's how community leaders responded

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas voiced outrage in response to audio released Tuesday that captured Police Chief Rick Smith saying the “bad guy’s dead,” minutes after a detective fatally shot Cameron Lamb.

Former Det. Eric DeValkenaere shot Cameron Lamb as the 26-year-old father backed his pickup truck into the garage of his home on Dec. 3, 2019, at 4154 College Ave. Earlier this month, DeValkenaere, 43, was found guilty of second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.

“As a father of a Black son and as a Black man, it pains me to hear audio during an official police investigation that denigrates a fellow human being,” Lucas said in a statement to The Star. “I will ask Chief Smith about the veracity of the audio and will withhold further comment until after our discussion.”

Shortly after arriving at the crime scene, Smith is heard on a recording saying, “Everyone is good, house is cleared. Bad guy’s dead.”

A source close to the investigation confirmed to The Star that it was Smith who made the remark.

Faith leaders and social justice groups also expressed anger and cited Smith’s comment in ongoing demands for him to be removed as police chief.

“Cameron Lamb is not the bad guy,” said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “DeValkenaere, members of KCPD and Chief Rick Smith, who obstructed justice while harboring and maintaining a killer on the public payroll, are the bad guys.”

“Cameron Lamb was a victim. And we, the tax paying citizens of Kansas City are the victims. We will continue to be victimized as long as Smith is chief of police.”

Civil rights groups, neighborhood associations and community leaders have long called for Smith to be removed, citing the fatal shootings of several Black men by Kansas City officers, an often troubled relationship with the community which worsened last year during protests and a growing number of homicides.

”This is a confirmation of how we have received Rick Smith from the very beginning,” said Lora McDonald, executive director of Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, or MORE2. “When a chief is firm on the fact that the person in uniform is always a ‘good guy,’ and the suspect is always guilty, we have a serious problem.”

McDonald continued: “We cannot continue with a chief who believes victims are guilty. I don’t see how it’s okay with anyone, the Board of Police Commissioners, the Governor or the public that we continue one more day with Smith as Chief without at least saying this is intolerable.”

The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church said, “I think he (Smith) needs to publicly apologize to the family. We know that Cameron Lamb wasn’t the bad guy, he was a victim. Also, he needs to be fired.”

Less than unbiased

Lauren Bonds, legal director for the National Police Accountability Project, called Smith’s comments troubling and said the internal investigation of the shooting was “less than unbiased.”

“The Chief’s comments demonstrate that police violence is a systemic issue and cannot be dismissed as the bad actions of a sole individual,” Bonds said. “The initial institutional response to Detective Devalkenaere’s actions was one of support and that should raise concerns about the culture and leadership of the organization as a whole.”

Bonds also said It would be fair for members of the community to infer that KCPD officers assume the worst about them.

“When the Chief called Mr. Lamb the ‘bad guy,’ he didn’t just make a statement about who was at fault or whether the shooting was justified, he made a moral judgment about Mr. Lamb,” she said. “I am sure it makes it difficult for community members to trust the department.”

Under Smith’s leadership, the department publicly took the position that if a police officer fired his or her weapon, it must be justified.

On Monday, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners said 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.

Board member Cathy Dean declined to comment Tuesday on Smith’s remark. Members Mark Tolbert and Dawn Cramer did not respond to a request for comment.

The audio

The recording was obtained by The Star through a Sunshine request with the Jackson County’s Prosecutor’s Office. The audio was submitted during the criminal trial but was not highlighted during the proceedings.

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.”

A spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office declined to comment.

The audio was captured from an open radio of an officer who stood near Smith at the crime scene. The video was from the dashboard camera from a police vehicle.

The comments were made as crime scene technicians gathered evidence and homicide investigators canvassed the neighborhood for potential witnesses. Lamb’s body had not yet been removed from the garage.

The shooting occurred after officers investigating an unrelated crash reported a red pickup chasing a purple Ford Mustang. Officers in a police helicopter spotted the truck driven by Lamb and followed the vehicle to his residence on College Ave.

DeValkenaere said he fired four shots after Lamb pointed a gun at his partner, Det. Troy Schwalm. Police investigating the shooting found Lamb inside the vehicle with his left arm and head hanging out of the driver’s side window. On the ground near his left hand was a handgun, according to police.

During the criminal trial, prosecutors alleged the crime scene was staged and evidence was planted. They also said it took only nine seconds from the time DeValkenaere arrived at the front yard of the house to the moment he pulled the trigger on his handgun.

The Rev. Darron Edwards, lead pastor of United Believers Community Church, challenged members of the police board to denounce Smith’s comments, calling them, “immoral, evil, insidious, inflammatory, and pompous.”

“This flagrant and foul comment by Chief Rick Smith further proves that since 2017 he was ‘planted’ to protect and serve police officers and not Black and brown people and communities,” Edwards said. “Cramer, Lucas, Tolbert, Dean and Wagner where is your moral fiber to finally say enough is enough.”

“How can you trust a lame duck police chief to make honorable decisions in regards to the budget, bonuses and promotions while it’s clear he has dishonored the badge when you hear him say clearly ‘bad guy’s dead.’”

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