A Nashville judge accepted Officer Andrew Delke’s guilty plea in court Friday morning, sentencing him to three years in jail for a fatal shooting in 2018.
But the family of Daniel Hambrick, the man Delke killed, made it clear that they did not approve of the deal, and the courtroom was briefly cleared after people inside and outside the courtroom started to shout and stomp.
Delke avoids long-awaited trial
Delke was set to go to trial next week for first-degree murder. Instead, the district attorney’s office has offered a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter. The penalty would still be the toughest ever dealt to a Nashville police officer for an on-duty killing, but substantially less than the maximum penalty if he’d been found guilty of murder.
And although his sentence is three years on paper, a document from Delke’s defense team says “with standard jail credits, he will serve about a year and a half.” At that time, the statement says he’ll be released without probation or parole.
Delke resigned from the police force Thursday and said in court that his use of deadly force wasn’t necessary. He expressed sympathy for Hambrick’s mother and said, “I am responsible for her loss.”
“I hope this case can contribute positively to the much-needed discussion about how police officers are trained and how we as a community want police officers to interact with citizens,” Delke said.
Hambrick family and advocates outraged
The arrangement quickly drew criticism from activists and the Tennessee NAACP as lenient and unfair. And at the start of proceedings, a lawyer for the family asked the judge not to accept any deal.
Hambrick’s mother, Vickie Hambrick, submitted a victim impact statement of her own that was read by her attorney, since Vickie is legally blind. In it, she said Daniel, her only child, was the love of her life.
“Daniel recognized at an early age that I had a disability, but he was never ashamed of me or embarrassed by me. He loved me unconditionally and constantly said that he would always take care of me,” she said. “My son was my eyes. Since he’s been gone, things have not been the same, and they never will be.”
The statement continued with what other members of the family told WPLN News after the hearing — that the Hambricks were “angry, mad and disgusted” by the plea agreement and urged the judge to insist on a jury trial instead of what Vickie Hambrick characterized as a “backroom bargain.”
“I have contempt for this system. I have contempt for this plea. I have contempt for the FOP. And I have a special contempt for Andrew Delke,” the statement concluded. “May you all rot in hell.”
Then, Vickie Hambrick took to the stand herself and shouted at Delke that she doesn’t accept his apology. Others in the courtroom began to chant “no justice, no peace.”
“I can’t believe this, judge,” Vickie Hambrick said. “I can’t believe it.”
Sheila Clemmons Lee, whose son, Jocques Clemmons, was killed by an officer in 2017, is sobbing. So many tears in this room right now. pic.twitter.com/3gn1vLlHyc
— Samantha Max (@samanthaellimax) July 2, 2021
In advance of the hearing, about a few dozen supporters of the family gathered outside the courthouse, chanting Daniel Hambrick’s nickname.
Protesters chant Daniel Hambrick’s nickname, Dan Dan. Hambrick was shot in 2018 as he was running away from officer Andrew Delke. Yesterday lawyers announced that Delke was taking a plea deal. @samanthaellimax will have more details on that later today. pic.twitter.com/bFvrnPrp2V
— Paige Southwick Pfleger (@PaigePfleger) July 2, 2021
DA and police chief support plea deal
District Attorney Glenn Funk defended the bargain, saying the guilty plea shows that Daniel Hambrick did not need to die and that Delke’s shooting of him was not justified. He noted that no other Nashville police officer had ever been convicted of homicide for an on-duty killing.
“It’s rare to see an officer charged,” Funk said. “It’s even more rare to see an officer convicted. It’s even more rare to see an officer plead guilty and go into custody from the courtroom.”
Funk said he didn’t want to risk losing at trial, and that the now former officer won’t be eligible for early release.
Delke’s attorney, David Raybin told reporters he was also worried about the potential verdict, had the case gone to trial. He said jurors could have chosen to convict his client because they didn’t like police, or because they feared that an acquittal could have resulted in protests or violence.
Raybin made the same argument when he tried to get the trial moved out of Nashville, citing the fire set in City Hall by a small number of demonstrators after George Floyd was killed last year. Today, he said the judge’s decision not to relocate the trial or bring in out-of-town jurors factored into the defense team’s decision to strike a plea bargain.
Raybin also reiterated a statement he’s made multiple times in the past three years — that Delke was following his training when he chased Hambrick and pulled the trigger. The former officer had said in court earlier in the morning that he hoped his case would lead to changes in how police are trained.
But when a reporter asked Raybin if he believed there was a need to reform how officers are taught to use force, the attorney said it was a discussion that need to be had, but by the police department.
MNPD declined to comment on Delke’s plea deal or resignation until after the plea deal was signed. Chief John Drake addressed both in a statement Friday morning.
“Today’s guilty plea ends three years of waiting by the Hambrick Family, the Delke family, our police department and Nashville as a whole,” Drake said, in part. “It has been a difficult three years for many, and I again express condolences to the relatives of Daniel Hambrick over his loss.”
This is a developing story that will be updated.