Tension grows in court as Nashville officer's trial looms

·3 min read

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A prosecutor on Friday accused attorneys for a white Nashville police officer of a “character assassination” attempt against the Black man he's charged with fatally shooting in 2018 as the officer's first-degree murder trial approaches next month and courtroom tensions mount.

At a hearing, the accusation came in reaction to defense attorneys' desire to show a jury a photo of Daniel Hambrick with money and several handguns. Both sides have agreed Hambrick, 25, had a gun as he fled Officer Andrew Delke, 27, on foot. A defense witness noted Hambrick had been convicted of a felony.

However, Delke didn’t know who Hambrick was when he chased him and shot him three times, an arrest affidavit states. Deputy District Attorney Roger Moore then accused the defense of wanting to tarnish Hambrick's image in front of jurors. The photo, along with other evidence in the case, remains sealed.

“Character assassination, that’s all this has been, all these pictures are for, is the unspoken, if not overtly, ‘This is someone whose life was not worth anything because of some of the actions that he may have participated in,’” Moore said.

The Nashville Fraternal Order of Police had set up a website in 2019 depicting Hambrick as a “dangerous convicted felon,” and included a picture of him holding a gun and money. But that photo and several others were removed that year, and the website itself has also since been taken down.

Defense attorney David Raybin, in response, reiterated his criticism of District Attorney Glenn Funk's decision to release video of the shooting ahead of any criminal charges being filed. The defense on Friday also showed evidence to suggest that the video from at least one other camera was not retained.

In the surveillance footage available, there is a blip of a blind spot in the angles seen, a point the defense has focused on. The defense has said the weapon became pointed at Delke during the chase, and prosecutors have cast doubt about that.

Friday's hearing also revealed the defense's desire to deploy the district attorney who preceded Funk in office. Torry Johnson, now a law professor at Belmont University, testified that he believes Delke had probable cause to pursue Hambrick.

In response, a prosecutor asked the former district attorney the same question three times.

“Under your watch, based on your testimony today, are you saying that Daniel Hambrick would have been just another young, dead Black man?” asked Assistant District Attorney Ronald Dowdy.

“I wasn’t asked to make an opinion on how I would have handled that case or how I would have done it," Johnson responded. "I would have perhaps done it differently. But that’s different than the question you’re asking me.”

Delke’s attorneys have argued the officer acted in line with his training and Tennessee law in response to “an armed suspect who ignored repeated orders to drop his gun.” Funk has argued Delke had other alternatives, adding that the officer could have stopped, sought cover and called for help.

The trial is set to begin July 12 after jury selection.

Nashville's Metro Council has already approved a $2.25 million civil settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by Hambrick's family.