Updated at 3:45 p.m.
The homicide case against a Nashville police officer will move forward to the Davidson County Grand Jury.
A judge ruled Monday that there is probable cause to allow prosecutors to continue their case against Officer Andrew Delke, who fatally shot 25-year-old Daniel Hambrick during a foot chase on July 26, 2018.
“The mere act of fleeing is simply not a crime in the absence of other facts. It certainly did not justify the use of lethal force,” wrote Judge Melissa Blackburn.
At a preliminary hearing last week, District Attorney Glenn Funk argued the officer wasn’t in imminent danger when he fired the fatal shots — and that a jury should hear the case.
“Any person in Davidson County who shoots someone who is running away from them — shoots them in the back and kills them — needs to be held accountable,” he said in court.
Judge Weighs Arguments
In her three-page ruling, Blackburn says that Delke pursued Hambrick “based on mere suspicion,” and that “the use of lethal force to apprehend a fleeing suspect only thought guilty of a misdemeanor is a deprivation of the Constitutional Rights of the person in flight.”
Blackburn also notes that evidence viewed in court was “insufficient” to support the officer’s contentions that Hambrick pointed a gun at the officer, and found that the officer was not in “imminent danger for his life” when he fired.
“The Court is mindful of the fact that police work is stressful; that officers must make split second decisions and often act in a heroic manner. This does not justify the pursuit of a man suspected of no crime following the trailing of a car not apparently involved in any criminal activity.”
The judge listened to testimony and attorney arguments for more than seven hours on Friday and Saturday. In several moments, she reminded attorneys that the hearing was “not the trial,” and reminded prosecutors that her role was to determine if there was probable cause for the case to move to the grand jury.
Her ruling notes that some of the defense’s case could create reasonable doubt for future jurors — the standard of proof that could later be applied at trial — but that in this stage in the case, prosecutors met a lower standard.
Defense Team Responds
Defense attorney David Raybin said Monday afternoon that the judge’s ruling wasn’t unexpected — but that he still doesn’t think the evidence is strong enough to convict the officer at a trial, when the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" would be required.
“Most of the litigation is yet to come, including a final determination of guilt or innocence by a jury,” Raybin said. “We believe that the proof will show he was following his training and defending himself against an armed threat.”
The defense has maintained that Delke acted reasonably when he fired the three shots that killed Hambrick.
Evidence Disputed At Preliminary Hearing
The legal teams have made surveillance video central to their cases, but they disagree on what exactly the footage shows.
The chase lasted about 40 seconds. In that time, Delke drove into the parking lot where Hambrick had recently exited a white car. When Hambrick ran, Delke chased.
Video shows Hambrick was carrying a gun, and recorded police radio dispatches captured the officer identifying the gun while in pursuit. In a sprint, the officer followed Hambrick around the corner of a building at the John Henry Hale housing complex. The officer then slowed down, aimed, and fired four shots — three struck Hambrick, who collapsed. A medical examiner testified that shots to the head and back (lung) were lethal.
Nashville police say that no on-duty officer has ever been convicted of homicide. In a statement, the family of Hambrick said they "100 percent agree" with Blackburn's ruling that the case again Delke should move forward.
"We applaud her courage while recognizing that it cannot be easy when the Fraternal Order of Police attempts to intimidate and influence the system," said Joy Kimbrough, the family's attorney.