The first Metro Nashville Police Department officer charged with murder for an on-duty killing will not stand trial.
Jury selection for Officer Andrew Delke’s trial was slated to begin next week. But Delke’s attorney, David Raybin, has confirmed to WPLN News that his client has agreed to a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter, which he will formally accept in criminal court Friday morning.
The police department has also confirmed that Delke has resigned, effective immediately. He had been on desk duty for nearly three years while the department waited for his case to make its way through the courts. He has never been disciplined for the shooting.
Delke, a white officer, was indicted on one count of first-degree murder in 2019, for shooting Daniel Hambrick, a Black man, during a foot chase. Both were 25 years old at the time. The shooting was caught on camera, and the Davidson County District Attorney’s office published the video two weeks later. It has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
Delke has said that he pulled the trigger because Hambrick pointed a gun at him, which made him fear for his life. However, no footage of the shooting shows Hambrick aiming a gun in the officer’s direction.
About 36 feet of the chase — less than two seconds — were not captured in any of the footage obtained by state investigators. Delke’s attorneys have argued that’s when Hambrick pointed his weapon. But they would have had no physical evidence to prove that point in court.
Tennessee law requires jurors to consider a range of charges during homicide trials, beginning with first-degree murder and then moving down to less serious charges if they don’t believe the defendant is guilty of the original count he or she faces. So, there was always a chance that Delke could have been convicted of a lesser crime, like manslaughter, even if the case had gone to trial.
Had Delke been convicted of first-degree murder, he could have faced life imprisonment. Instead, he could now theoretically spend between three and 15 years behind bars. Details of his plea deal have not yet been disclosed, but Hambrick’s sister tells WPLN News that the officer has agreed to three years.
The district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Still a historic sentence for a Nashville police officer
Though the sentence for voluntary manslaughter is significantly lower than that for first-degree murder, the punishment is still harsher than any penalty dealt to a Nashville officer for an on-duty killing. Delke was the first officer in the city’s history to be charged with premeditated murder, and only one other officer has been accused of a crime for shooting someone.
In February of 1973, a 23-year-old officer named Jackie Pyle shot and killed Cedric Overton, a 21-year-old Black man, while patrolling in South Nashville.
Overton had been standing beside a car with his hands in his pockets, waiting for a friend to give him a ride. The officer started asking questions and asked Overton to show his hands. Within 30 seconds, the rookie officer had fired four bullets.
The police department initially said that Overton came at Pyle with a knife. But investigators later discovered that the weapon had been planted. Overton had been unarmed.
Pyle was initially charged with voluntary manslaughter — the same charge Delke now faces — but his case ended in a mistrial. The officer was then tried again on less serious charges and convicted. But when the time came for a judge to hand down a punishment, he chose not to sentence the officer to any jail or prison time. Instead, the judge fined Pyle $10 — the minimum possible penalty.
National research shows that it is incredibly rare for law enforcement officers to face criminal charges for killing someone, let alone conviction. According to the database Mapping Police Violence, about 1,100 people were killed by officers in the U.S. in 2020, while just 16 officers were charged with crimes.
Police are typically cleared of wrongdoing when they kill someone, because their actions are considered justified. Officers are legally allowed to use deadly force if they believe their lives, or someone else’s, are in danger.
Prosecutors are also often hesitant to charge police with crimes, even when there’s strong evidence against them, because of the challenges prosecution can bring. For one, it can be difficult to convince a jury to second-guess an officer’s split-second decision when faced with potential danger. Plus, indicting an officer can cause bad blood between the district attorney’s office and the police department — two law enforcement entities that typically work closely together.
In Baltimore, for instance, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby was praised by many in the community for charging six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, a Black man who died from injuries suffered in police custody in 2015. But that decision also sowed distrust between her office and the police department, leading some to accuse officers of attempting to sabotage the case against their colleagues. After one mistrial and several acquittals, Mosby ended up dropping all the charges.
The conviction of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, this spring, was a rare win for police reform advocates who argue officers are not held to the same standards as ordinary citizens. But that case was not representative of most, and the details varied substantially from Delke’s.
Whereas Chauvin was described as a bad apple who broke protocol, Delke had been rewarded time and again for taking action. His innocence claim centered on the argument that he was following his training when he pulled the trigger. Defense attorneys planned to call multiple expert witnesses to bolster that claim.
Meanwhile, Nashville’s police department is in the process of reevaluating how it trains its officers to use force. MNPD officers have shot five people this year, and two young men have shot themselves during encounters with police — one maybe accidentally. It’s been the most violent year for police interactions since the department started tracking these incidents in 2005.
Those cases are all still under investigation, and police officials have defended officers’ actions each time. But the department has refrained from defending Officer Delke’s actions. MNPD declined to comment on Delke’s plea deal or resignation until after the plea deal is signed but provided a copy of his one-sentence resignation letter.
“I respectfully resign from my position as a sworn police officer in the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, effective July 1, 2021,” he wrote to Chief John Drake. Below, he scrawled his signature, signing off as “Employee No. 256425” one last time.