Jackson County's top prosecutor said a recent claim by a Kansas City Police Department captain that officers could not investigate a break-in without a warrant was false.
Jean Peters Baker on Tuesday discussed a recent lawsuit filed by a Kansas City man who said police told him they could not investigate a burglary he reported because their hands were "tied." A voicemail left by the captain regarding the burglary, Baker said, was erroneous in its claim that as the result of the recent conviction of a KCPD detective Eric DeValkenaere, the department changed its policy.
A spokesperson for the police department confirmed Tuesday that department policy has not changed.
The renewed attention on this policy misinformation stemmed from a lawsuit filed Friday by Daniel Fox, which in part accuses the department of adopting a policy in which officers will not investigate or respond to crimes on private property without a warrant, even when the matter is a pressing one.
Baker said Interim Police Chief Joseph Mabin spoke with her Tuesday morning about the information in the lawsuit filed by Fox, which included a transcription of the voicemail.
"That voicemail, by a captain no doubt, profoundly misstates the law," Baker told The Star. "And if that were one of my managers, if I had a manager here that misstated the law so profoundly and I knew about that, I would address it."
Police officials declined to comment on the lawsuit. When asked about the policy described in the voicemail, Officer Donna Drake, a KCPD spokesperson, referred to a department policy that is, in part, redacted.
But she said that policy has not changed since DeValkenaere's conviction.
The break-in and police response
Just after 1 a.m. on July 15, Fox, who lives near the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, heard a bang as someone broke down the door of his neighbor's home. Then he saw someone moving inside the house.
Fox called 911. He feared the suspected burglar might next come for his home, with his wife and two young children inside.
Police showed up quickly, but left in a matter of minutes, Fox said. They didn't go into his neighbor's home, nor did they close the front door. Upset by their inaction, Fox took to Twitter the next morning, posting a video critical of KCPD's response.
Within several hours, Fox alleges in his lawsuit, he faced harassment and intimidation from members of the department regarding the video he posted. This included a voicemail from Capt. James Gottstein claiming the DeValkenaere ruling limited officers' abilities to enter private property without consent.
"That ruling had a direct impact on what we can do, which is affecting you and I don't agree with it, because we should be able to meet your need," Gottstein said in the voicemail. "I'm sorry you had that experience, but many citizens are going to have that same experience. And it's kind of out of the police's hands at this point until that judgment is overturned on appeal so that we can go back to our business to keep citizens safe."
While Baker said she doesn't know widespread this misinformation is within the police department, she has heard it come up in some instances, including in the case of Mackenzie Hopkins, a woman killed in Kansas City in January.
Hopkins was found beaten to death 12 hours after a 911 call was placed from her phone in January. Her 4-year-old daughter was also found critically injured. The woman's family told FOX4 at the time that members of KCPD said their colleagues could not immediately enter the house when they arrived because of the DeValkenaere decision.
"Those were emotional words spoken by emotional police officers, to a family in grave, grave need," Baker said.
In March, DeValkenaere, a former Kansas City police detective, was sentenced to six years in prison in the 2019 killing of Cameron Lamb.
Lamb, 26, was backing his pickup truck into his own garage when DeValkenaere fired several shots, killing him. DeValkenaere claimed Lamb was armed, but prosecutors say the gun found near him was planted. The former detective was ultimately found guilty of second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.
DeValkenaere's conduct was reckless, prosecutors said at the time, and violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs, who delivered the verdict late last year, said DeValkenaere and his partner did not have a search warrant or an arrest warrant, which would have allowed them to be on the property. They did not have consent to be on the property and there were no circumstances where someone was being harmed or in imminent danger that would have permitted it, he said.
On Nov. 19, just hours after DeValkenaere was convicted, an internal email was sent to members of KCPD, labeled "Extra Daily Informant."
"Please review legal bulletin No. 20-04," it read.
Drake said the legal bulletin to which it referred is not publicly available, according to Missouri Sunshine Law. Asked whether she could summarize the contents of the legal bulletin, she declined.
Baker, who confirmed she's not aware of any change in KCPD policy, said she found the voicemail the police captain left for Fox concerning in part because people should be encouraged to call police when needed.
"I think what the captain was saying is, his feelings were hurt," Baker said.
"His feelings were hurt that someone would write a negative review somewhere about the department. And his feelings were hurt about one of his colleagues being convicted of a crime that he maybe doesn't fully understand, and he was reacting from that. The problem is that he is a speaker for the department and he needs to recognize he has a greater responsibility than that."