An indictment was handed down recently against Andrew Delke, a 25-year-old Nashville police officer, for first-degree murder. The charge stems from the fatal shooting of Daniel Hambrick that occurred last July and marks the first time an officer has been charged after an on-duty shooting.
Delke, who is white, shot Hambrick, who was black, three times in the back during a July 26 foot chase in North Nashville. Questions arose immediately about the shooting with activists claiming the shooting was an example of racial bias within the police force. Ultimately, District Attorney Glenn Funk decided to pursue a criminal homicide charge against the officer after reviewing evidence collected by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, including surveillance footage showing Delke opening fire as Hambrick ran away.
The shooting occurred after Officer Delke encountered Hambrick in a parking lot after an attempted traffic stop nearby. After Hambrick saw Delke, Hambrick ran and a foot chase ensued. After the shooting, Delke told investigators he was acting in self-defense based on the claim that he saw Hambrick holding a handgun. He further stated that he started shooting after Hambrick ignored commands to drop the gun.
General Sessions Judge Melissa Blackburn, who was the first judge to review the evidence during a preliminary hearing, said that evidence showed Delke had acted inappropriately. Blackburn said Hambrick’s behavior on the day of his death “certainly didn’t justify (Delke’s) use of lethal force.” Consequently, Blackburn sent the case to the Davidson County grand jury for another round of consideration earlier this month. The panel, which typically takes months to review a charge, returned their decision within two weeks.
The 13 grand jurors had the option of rejecting the charge or choosing to indict on a menu of potential homicide charges ranging from negligent homicide to first-degree murder. They went with the most severe option of first-degree murder, meaning they thought the evidence showed Delke committed a premeditated illegal killing. Whether or not the State will be able to prove that Officer Delke committed first-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury remains to be seen.
Alex Little, a former federal prosecutor who now works as a criminal defense attorney in Nashville, said the first-degree murder charge was unusual — when officers elsewhere have been prosecuted in a shooting, it has typically been on a lower charge. “The grand jury is sending a pretty clear message,” Little said. “It certainly suggests that this is the type of case that deserves a high level of attention in our criminal justice system.” Little went on to say that the more serious charge would make prosecutors’ jobs harder during a trial. “It’s a much, much higher bar,” he said.
Was the Shooting Justified or Racially Motivated?
Delke’s attorney David Raybin issued a statement Friday saying Delke would “continue to defend himself on the basis that he acted in accordance with his training and Tennessee law in response to an armed suspect who ignored repeated orders to drop his gun. “While no citizen looks forward to a trial on allegations such as this, Officer Delke and his defense team will trust in the jury system,” Raybin said. The Nashville chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police blasted Funk and the indictment as “politically motivated” in a statement, saying Delke was rightfully following his police training during the shooting. “That’s not a crime; it’s what Officer Delke and every other police officer in America is trained to do to protect their life and others,” the police union said in a statement.
Activist and religious groups that have long said police training and policies are racially biased praised Friday’s indictment. The Rev. James Turner II, president of Nashville’s Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship, said the case was “one step closer to justice. Some cases have not even gotten this close, on the national level, let alone Nashville. Being charged and actually being sent to prison are two different things, and we have to see it all the way through,” Turner said. “We still have another hurdle.”
Delke remains employed by the police force. He has been placed on administrative assignment while the criminal case and an internal investigation are pending. Delke is expected to be arraigned on the first-degree murder charge later this month at which time his defense team says he will plead not guilty and push for a jury trial rather than pursuing a deal with prosecutors. He remains free on bond while the case is pending.
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