An attorney for police officer Andrew Delke asked a judge for a second time to move his trial out of Davidson County.
Delke is the first Nashville police officer to face murder charges for an on-duty shooting.
At a hearing Monday morning, defense attorney David Raybin argued it would be too difficult to find 12 local jurors in Nashville for a fair trial and pointed to the first protest against police brutality in May, which ended with a small group of protesters setting a fire inside the Historic Metro Courthouse downtown. Non-violent protests against police brutality continued for weeks afterward.
“The pre-trial publicity surrounding the summer riots and protests would have an impact on people willing to serve as jurors, because they may evaluate evidence and deliberate during trial to avoid the expected protests, riots and violence if Officer Delke is found not guilty,” Raybin told the judge.
During the proceedings, Delke’s defense team showed a 10-minute-long video that compiled local news clips related to the case — including WPLN’s podcast about the trial — as well as images and social media posts from the protests last summer. The footage showed people smashing windows, vandalizing a police car and setting fire to the courthouse.
“This is unprecedented, to have a fire in a courthouse because of racial strife,” Raybin said. “I do not know what other change of venue proof a court could ever want to have to justify this.”
In a motion filed before the hearing, Raybin wrote that jurors might be afraid to reach a not-guilty verdict out of concern that their decision could lead to violence.
The prosecution pointed out that protests against police occurred across the country after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, some of which were “much worse” than what happened in Nashville, they said. But Delke’s defense team countered that no other city in Tennessee had set a courthouse on fire — and, if their motion is granted, jurors would be chosen from somewhere else within the state.
A judge has already denied the defense’s request to move the trial once. But Raybin says public sentiment has changed. He says a recent survey of potential jurors found that the percentage of Nashvillians who already believe that Delke is guilty has increased since 2019, while the percentage who think he’s not guilty has gone down by about a half.
Raybin says media coverage of the case has not given his client “a fair shake” and has sometimes neglected to mention that Daniel Hambrick was holding a gun when Delke shot him, unlike Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were both unarmed. He also blames the vice chair of the Community Oversight Board, who asked his followers on Twitter to “show up and show out” for Delke’s trial. And he blames the protesters who shouted Hambrick’s name as they marched through downtown and held signs calling for justice in his case.
“Can you imagine the man [Delke] sitting in that chair, and not two blocks from where we’re sitting, someone’s hollering, ‘Say his name, Daniel Hambrick. Say his name, Daniel Hambrick,’ and the vitriol in that man’s voice, the hatred in that man’s voice,” Raybin said. “The people chanting ought to scare anybody. It scared me.”
However, Raybin didn’t mention that Hambrick’s name was hardly mentioned at the Nashville protests last summer. Even his own family members were frustrated that his case hadn’t gotten more attention in town, and that it had taken killings hundreds of miles away to turn out such large crowds.
One of the teen organizers of the largest demonstration, which brought about 10,000 protesters to the streets of downtown, told WPLN News she hadn’t even heard of Hambrick until later in the summer. He was killed more than two years ago.
District Attorney Glenn Funk challenged Raybin’s claim that an acquittal would result in dangerous protests. He said that didn’t happen on July 26, 2018, when Delke shot Hambrick, nor when the officer was arrested and indicted. Plus, he said that what happened in May was not spurred by one killing, but by “a confluence of murders” across the country.
Funk acknowledged that the case had received more publicity than average, and, like other high-profile trials, it would require more effort to find impartial jurors. But he argued the extra work was worth it.
“Can we find 12 people who have not pre-judged this case, 12 people who might not even know anything about the case, or at least nothing to the extent that would cause them to be biased?” Funk asked rhetorically. “What the defense motion is, essentially is, ‘It’s not worth the effort to try.'”
Judge Monte Watkins says he will review the arguments and announce his decision by the end of the week.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.