Jury selection was supposed to begin Tuesday morning for the first trial of a Nashville police officer charged with murder.
But Andrew Delke has already been booked in the Davidson County jail, where he’s now serving a three-year sentence for manslaughter. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge Friday.
WPLN’s Samantha Max was in court. She spoke with WPLN’s Morning Edition host Nina Cardona about the plea deal, how the sides agreed to it, and how people have reacted. You can hear their conversation by pressing play on the audio at the top of this story or read a transcript below.
NC: So, Sam, this plea deal has caught a lot of people by surprise after waiting three years for trial. Why did the two sides decide not to go through with it after so much preparation and pressure from the local community?
SM: So the defense says the plea agreements are incredibly common in criminal cases, especially for people who could potentially spend a lot of time in prison if they’re convicted. And Delke could have faced life in prison, which would have been essentially 51 years without the possibility of parole.
So, instead, Delke has been sentenced to three years, which he’ll serve in a local jail. And if he doesn’t misbehave, he could actually get out in about a year and a half, which is a huge jump from what he was facing originally. Plus, the defense said that they were really concerned about the jury being influenced by people who don’t support police or who might even get violent if Delke [were] acquitted.
NC: Why did the prosecution offer that deal?
SM: So, the prosecution told reporters that they stood by their belief that Hambrick did not need to die. That Delke was — they don’t think that Delke was justified when he shot Hambrick in the back as he ran away. But District Attorney Glenn Funk said that he didn’t think this was a slam dunk case because Hambrick had a gun in his hand and because Delke did tell him to stop — Delke did tell him to stop and warned that he would shoot if Hambrick kept running.
Plus, Funk was also really worried about a hung jury, which he thought could result in a mistrial. And, you know, I think for him, the threat of losing this case or having a mistrial was just too much to bear, especially given kind of the environment around policing right now.
NC: So what about Delke now? Obviously had to agree to this settlement, too. Did he have anything to say in court on Friday?
SM: Yeah. So, for the first time, really in a long time, we actually heard from Delke live and in person. He was visibly nervous. You could hear the unease in his voice. He was kind of stammering a bit as he was answering some questions with the judge just to kind of make sure that he understood what was going on.
But then after that, he gave his own statement. That really set a different tone from the argument that his attorneys and supporters at the union have been making for three years now. You know, they’ve been saying over and over that he was just following his training when he killed Daniel Hambrick.
But Delke was apologetic. He said his use of force was not reasonably necessary. He called the incident tragic, said no mother should have to lose her child. He also said not a single day had gone by that he hadn’t thought about his actions and the impact that they’ve had, not just on himself and on the handbrakes, but on the community and the police department. And he said he hoped this case would contribute positively to what he called the much-needed discussion about how police are trained and how the community wants to interact with people.
NC: Well, how did the Hambrick family respond to all of this?
SM: They did not accept his apology. After Delke gave a statement, Hambrick’s mother, Vickie Hambrick went out with her attorney and a few relatives to share her own thoughts on the plea deal.
So, first, the attorney read a prepared statement on Hambrick’s behalf. And in that statement, Hambrick called her son the love of her life and said that no one could fill the void left by his death. She also criticized the prosecutors and the defense for just going ahead with this deal without getting her input.
After reading that statement, the attorney urged the judge not to accept the deal, and then Hambrick started speaking off the cuff. She was very emotional, sobbing, struggling to catch her breath, and then she just started shrieking. She said she didn’t accept Delke’s apology, that she hated him. Some curse words were flying around. And then when she started to reach in Delke’s direction, that’s when family members started kind of pulling her back, trying to calm her down. And Delke was whisked out of the courtroom.
NC: Well, an intense situation, obviously, emotions were very raw, why were there no protests over the weekend?
SM: You know, it’s interesting. There hasn’t been that much mobilization around this case from the beginning. Obviously, there were some protests, but this is certainly a murkier case than, you know, George Floyds death in Minneapolis, which turned out thousands and thousands of people. Plus, we’ve had a long period of time between the shooting in the trial and in general. You know, I think there’s a very tight knit activist community here, but it’s quite small and it takes a lot for them to kind of bring out the larger masses.
NC: So what do you think this case means for Nashville?
SM: You know, I think on the one hand, for the first time in Nashville’s history, a police officer is in jail for killing someone. And that’s a big deal that will likely change the way that police see their jobs. It could even have a chilling effect like we saw in Baltimore after Freddie Gray’s death, where officers felt afraid to do their jobs because they didn’t want to get in serious trouble.
But on the other hand, three years with the possibility that it could be reduced to a year and a half in jail is just not justice in a lot of people’s eyes. And plus, five people have been shot by police this year and none of those officers have been charged yet. So Chief Drake says he wants reform for the department, but we’ll have to see if MNPD really does change to prevent more shootings and killings.