A jailed ex-KC cop is a problem for Mike Parson. Blaming the prosecutor won’t solve it
Missouri’s governor is sounding desperate with his talk of a pardon for Kansas City cop convicted of killing a Black man
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson at a bill signing in St. Louis in October 2020 (photo courtesy of Missouri Governor’s Office).
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson clearly doesn’t know what to do about Eric DeValkenaere, the former Kansas City police officer convicted of killing a 26-year-old Black man, Cameron Lamb.
Parson, forever a county sheriff at heart, hates the thought of a cop sitting in prison and he’s under pressure from the extended brotherhood of law enforcement to bring DeValkenaere home.
He also knows that commuting DeValkenaere’s sentence will enrage many people in Kansas City and beyond. And if Parson has studied the case — as he claims to have done — he surely knows that the facts support the second-degree manslaughter conviction that has earned DeValkenaere six years in prison.
So what is a governor to do?
If you’re Mike Parson, you create a diversion. Find someone to blame. Not DeValkenaere, who rushed into Lamb’s backyard without cause or a warrant and shot Lamb as he was backing his pickup into a garage. Not the KCPD leadership of 2021, which tacitly encouraged officers to push the limits.
No. You blame Jean Peters Baker, the Jackson County prosecutor who did her job and brought the charges against DeValkenaere.
“The one thing that bothered me more than anything else was the way the prosecutor handled this in Kansas City,” Parson told radio talk show host Pete Mundo last week.
“She’s done a poor example of setting the stage and making this more of a political issue,” he went on, “when she should have been doing what’s right by the law.”
I wish Mundo had asked the governor exactly how Baker has not done right by the law, when her case has been validated by a grand jury, a circuit court judge in Jackson County and three Missouri appeals judges. He did not.
Another great question would be what Parson thinks Baker has to gain politically. Because here’s what he’s missing: No prosecutor in their right mind wants to charge a cop with anything, least of all murder.
A prosecutor’s success in bringing successful cases and getting criminals off the streets depends on a healthy working relationship with everyone from the police chief to detectives and crime scene investigators.
Why would Baker endanger that relationship? Why would she invite the wrath of the police union, the anonymous threats linked to this case and the endless condemnation of conservative talk show hosts and pundits?
There is only one answer: Because Baker swore an oath to uphold the law, and prosecuting DeValkenaere was the right thing to do.
Baker has been Jackson County’s prosecutor for 12 eventful years. In that time she successfully prosecuted a Catholic bishop for failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest and she passed on charging former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens with invasion of privacy, saying she couldn’t prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. She sent scores of people to prison for life terms when evidence showed they were guilty and she helped free Kevin Strickland from that fate after 43 years in prison because the evidence showed he was innocent.
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She prosecuted police officers for assault and other crimes, and in other cases she declined to prosecute officers even when the community was calling for her to do so. Baker has built a trove of credibility in Kansas City and Jackson County by meticulously gathering facts and applying the law without regard to race, status or position.
Facts and the rule of law matter much less to Parson and his appointed attorney general, Andrew Bailey. The only law they want applied in the DeValkenaere case is the unwritten one that says a cop in uniform can never be wrong. And so the prosecutor seeking justice in the death of a young Black man must be the one in error.
The problem for them is that, when Bailey took the preposterous step of appealing the guilty verdict handed down by a Missouri circuit court judge, another set of judges reiterated that Baker had been right. DeValkenaere broke the law when he fatally shot Lamb.
In Kansas City, which has been on edge for months about the possibility of the governor pardoning DeValkenaere or commuting his sentence, Parson’s remarks on the radio show were interpreted as a sign that he’s getting ready to do just that — free DeValkenaere and attempt to pin the inevitable fallout on Baker and her office.
But Parson said something else in that interview that makes me think that outcome is not inevitable. He said he had supported Bailey’s move to appeal the circuit court’s verdict, rather than defend it as is usually the attorney general’s role. But two of the three appeals judges who slapped down Bailey’s request to reverse the verdict were Parson’s own appointees.
“Those were some of the judges that I actually put in place,” the governor told Mundo. “I just don’t have a quick answer for you.”
Baker has announced that she’s not running for reelection and will leave office in January 2025 — the same time Parson will be moving out of the governor’s mansion. Baker can return to private life knowing that she’s done the right thing. Will Parson be able to say the same?
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