This week, Nashville moved a step closer to a seeing a police officer stand trial in a homicide case. If Andrew Delke is convicted, it would be the first time for actions by an on-duty Metro officer.
The two-day preliminary hearing offered new insights into the officer’s fatal shooting of Daniel Hambrick on July 26, 2018. And as the case moves to the Davidson County Grand Jury, new questions have surfaced.
New Details In Court
Before the preliminary hearing, the narrative was largely provided by the warrant against Delke: that the officer mixed up which car he was searching for, that he didn’t have reason to chase Hambrick and that he opened fire unnecessarily.
But in court, some of the officer’s own account was provided. In a video of Delke being interrogated, he detailed why he was pursuing the car with Hambrick inside, and said he yelled repeatedly for Hambrick to drop a gun that the officer saw while he was chasing on foot. And he said that the gun was pointed toward him, and that he read Hambrick as having a threatening intent.
In addition, a new theory of the case was introduced by defense attorneys. By leaning in part on the officer’s account, and surveillance video that was initially made public, the defense puts more blame on Hambrick and the friends he was driving with.
The defense contends that the group’s driving was suspicious, and that they scattered when exiting the car, with Hambrick intentionally acting as a “decoy” to bait Delke into chasing.
Broadly, the question remains much the same: was lethal force warranted?
And as part of that evaluation: did the officer have cause to chase Hambrick, and did Hambrick ever threaten the officer with the gun he carried?
Judge’s Detailed Ruling
Judge Melissa Blackburn ruled on Monday that the case should advance to the grand jury. And in doing so, she did not issue merely a procedural order. The judge put her analysis in writing, with several legal citations.
The judge also weighed in on some pieces of evidence, saying she didn’t see proof that Hambrick pointed his gun toward Delke, and that she didn’t see reason for the officer to pursue Hambrick without evidence of a crime.
The defense team did not quibble with the ruling, saying later Monday that ample time remains for additional evidence to be presented to a jury, which would also be evaluating the case with a higher burden of proof.
A Battle For Public Opinion
In addition to the legal fight, attorneys have now traded barbs. Specifically, the defense chastised the prosecutor for comparing Delke’s defense to one used by war criminals.
But the unprecedented and high-profile case has others talking as well.
The scene at the courtroom on Friday was tense as an over-capacity audience tried to find seating. Dozens of off-duty officers were on hand, as well as many of Hambrick’s surviving family members.
Advocacy groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police, have also put their spin on the proceedings in statements and on social media.
The bottom line this week is that the homicide charge against Delke will be considered by the grand jury, although the district attorney’s office did not provide a timeline — and if the case leads to a trial, it could still be months or years before a verdict.
Already, the grand jury process is being scrutinized. The Fraternal Order of Police has asked that a police training expert — who served as a defense witness at the preliminary hearing — be invited to testify at the grand jury proceeding, which typically isn’t adversarial, with prosecutors presenting their facts.