A white Nashville police officer, accused of fatally shooting a black man in the back as he fled, was charged yesterday with criminal homicide.
Daniel Hambrick, 25, sustained three gunshot wounds on July 26: two in his back and one in the back of his head. His alleged killer, Metropolitan Nashville Police Officer Andrew Delke, turned himself in to the authorities yesterday before being released on $25,000 bond. At first, Night Court Magistrate Evan Harris said there wasn't evidence to charge him. But Judge Michael Mondelli of the local General Sessions Court eventually signed off on the criminal charge.
Hambrick's death has renewed the debate over police culpability in controversial, officer-involved fatal shootings. Nationally, it's rare for such officers to face criminal charges. In the Nashville area, particularly when the officers in question were on duty, it's almost unheard of.
Delke's arrest warrant describes what happened in the lead-up to the shooting. Delke, a member of a stolen vehicles task force, was on patrol when he encountered a Chevrolet Impala at an intersection. Both Delke and the Impala had stopped at stop signs, but the Impala "conceded the right of way by not pulling in front of him," the warrant says.
This made Delke "suspicious," and when the Impala eventually continued on its way, the warrant says he "followed behind it." Delke ran the Impala's license plate and discovered it was not stolen. "Nevertheless, because Officer Delke understood that part of the Task Force directive was to make traffic stops, he continued to follow to see if he could develop a reason to stop the Impala," according to the warrant.
Delke continued following the car, and at one point turned on his police lights. The Impala didn't pull over, so he turned his lights off and kept following it "from a distance" until he "lost track" of the car," the warrant says. He drove around searching for it, and eventually found a different four-door sedan that he "mistook" for the Impala. Delke pulled up near the car, at which point one of the "individuals in the area," Hambrick, started to run away. Police have previously said Hambrick was in the car before he started running.
According to the arrest warrant, Delke chased Hambrick. As they were running, Delke "saw a gun in Mr. Hambrick's hand" and told him to "drop the gun," warning he would shoot if Hambrick did not comply. Delke "decided to use deadly force" when Hambrick appeared not to listen.
Surveillance video from a nearby school shows Hambrick being shot. It appears the officer stopped for a moment, then fired while Hambrick was still running:
Delke was not wearing a body camera, and there was no dash camera on his vehicle. Last year, the Nashville Metro Council set aside $15 million for all officers to receive body cameras, though Councilman Steve Glover says this would actually cost $50 million. Just 20 Nashville cops currently wear body cameras.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Delke was reassigned to a desk job. He has since been decommissioned, meaning he's still getting paid but is effectively suspended from the force. He's due in court October 30, and his attorney, David Raybin, says he plans to plead not guilty.
Delke's case may be unique for the Nashville area. The New York Times reports that neither Delke's attorney nor a spokesman for the prosecutor's office could "recall any other case in which a Nashville police officer had been charged with such a crime for an act that happened while on duty." The Nashville Tennessean agrees: "no Nashville police officer in recent memory has been charged after shooting someone while they were on duty."
Nashville isn't alone. Since 2015, at least 3,677 cops across the country have shot people fatally. Since 2005, fewer than 100 have faced criminal charges. Only 32 have actually been convicted, with roughly half of those convictions resulting from guilty pleas.