While police officers across the U.S. are tasked with keeping law and order on the streets of America, there are unfortunate cases where cops shoot to kill when they don’t need to. These actions over the years have spawned organizations like the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, who campaign against police brutality.
In a recent shooting in Nashville, officer Andrew Delke from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department was caught on camera chasing a suspect and then shooting him several times in the back. However, this shooting is set to have different and more serious ramifications than most when it comes to the future of law enforcement in the United States.
When Officer Delke was unsuccessful in his attempt to pull over a white Chevrolet Impala one morning, he kept his eyes peeled for the remainder of his shift just in case he spotted the vehicle again. When the officer thought he’d spotted the white car in a parking lot later in the day, he pulled in and parked up. But the white car he saw was a different vehicle altogether, even if it looked similar.
Officer Delke grew suspicious of the white car while he was patrolling in northern Nashville. But his reason for being suspicious was a strange one after the car simply stopped at a stop sign, in line with the law, and conceded right of way to him. It was at that point that the officer began to follow the vehicle. It seems that Delke was determined to stop the driver of the Chevrolet Impala no matter what.
Even after Delke ran the license plates of the vehicle through his onboard system he “continued to follow to see if he could develop a reason to stop the Impala,” the affidavit said. That was after he had ascertained that the vehicle was not even stolen so why did he follow the car and look for a reason to stop it? There’s a lot to be said for the instinctual feelings that some cops get when on the job, but this was taking things a little too far by some accounts.
For whatever reasons, which are still not clear, Officer Delke pulled onto the interstate and switched on his blue lights. The driver of the car either didn’t know the cops were following him or he didn’t care but either way, he failed to stop, and Delke lost track of the vehicle on the Interstate. The trouble started when the officer pulled into the apartment parking lot, mistaking the original Impala for another sedan that was also white.
No sooner had Delke pulled up alongside the white sedan, that the owner of that car, Daniel Hambrick, took off in a hurry and ran away from the scene. At that point, Officer Delke gave chase even though he wasn’t even sure of the identity of the man. He also didn’t know whether Hambrick was associated with either the Impala or the sedan, but he gave chase anyway.
What should have been nothing more than a routine police stop soon turned into a fatal shooting that would change the lives of many people. When Hambrick failed to heed the orders of Delke to stop and drop the gun he was holding, he ran as fast as he could to get away from the officer. Delke shot Hambrick four times from behind, hitting him with three bullets. At least one of those bullets struck Hambrick in the back of the head, killing him almost instantly.
Posing a Threat
Having turned himself in, Delke was released from police custody after posting $25,000 bail. His attorney, David L. Raybin, spoke to reporters via telephone according to a report in The New York Times. Raybin explained that backup officers were summoned to the scene on that fateful day and that even though the suspect was running away from Delke, he was running toward other officers and was armed.
According to Raybin: “Tennessee law permits a police officer to use deadly force when there is a danger to others,” he said. “Officer Delke was protecting himself, his backup officers and the public.” He also noted that he couldn’t recall a single time when a Nashville police officer had been charged with a crime for something like this that happened in the line of duty. However, on this occasion, officer Delke was to be tried criminally for shooting Hambrick.
It was more down to a procedural anomaly than anything else as Glenn R. Funk, the District Attorney explained. “The decision to institute charges by warrant as opposed to presenting the matter directly to a grand jury allows this case to be presented in open court in as transparent a manner as possible,” he said. “As this is a pending criminal case, I will have no further extrajudicial comments.”
The fatal shooting sparked protest from some human right’s advocate groups including the controversial ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. Even the mayor of the city, David Briley, spoke out about the incident calling it a “tragedy,” and noting that the “decision to file charges, in this case, is a necessary step.” He said, “Put simply, we must have laws that are fairly, equally and transparently applied.”
Justice for Daniel
“In August, I spoke with Daniel Hambrick’s mother to express my condolences for her loss. I assured her that we would show respect for the life of her son, because his life mattered,” Mayor Briley said. “At that time, Ms. Hambrick asked for justice for Daniel. The District Attorney’s decision to file charges, in this case, is a necessary step toward that end.” But he also spoke about how police officers need to be held accountable for their actions, and that includes criminal proceedings.
To that end, Briley said: “I fully support our police. However, officers will be required to account for their actions when they have been accused of misconduct.” But Officer Delke’s defenders are claiming that while the incident ended in a fatality, Delke was right to defend himself as the suspect was holding a loaded handgun.
Community Oversight Now, an organization affiliated with other groups like the BLM movement, released a statement about the way the criminal proceedings were handled. “While the news is encouraging in regards to this decision, Community Oversight Now reinstates its insistence there be independent oversight of policing in Nashville,” they said. “There has long been a call for more transparency in the investigations, training, and misconduct of Nashville police officers.”
The NAACP chapter president in Nashville, Gloria Sweet-Love, also expressed optimism about the process to get justice for Daniel. “Let us say that we are excited that at last Lady Justice is truly blind, and at last a person that has committed a crime that wears blue has been charged.” However, Funk’s decision, in this case, is likely to widen the rift between the city’s top law enforcement agencies.
At the same time, Police Chief Steve Anderson also spoke about the Delke case. “I have long had great respect for, and confidence in, the justice system in Davidson County and the State of Tennessee. That respect and confidence remains,” he said according to a new report in the Tennessean. “It has been my experience that as the justice process proceeds, all of the facts and circumstances concerning an investigation will become known.”
Above the Law
The case has raised interesting but difficult questions about due process in America. It’s little surprise that the ACLU of Tennessee has lauded Funk’s decision to prosecute Delke in this way. “The arrest of Officer Delke for the killing of Daniel Hambrick is a crucial first step in setting the wheels of accountability and justice in motion,” they said in a statement. “Officer Delke must receive due process during the proceedings. However, the arrest in and of itself sends an important – yet all too rare – message to the community that nobody is above the law.”
Amid all the controversy surrounding this case, General Sessions Judge Melissa Blackburn said that a new court date had now been set to try Officer Delke for homicide. His preliminary hearing is set for November 16, 2018, according to court records. It is hoped by prosecutors that that hearing will “give the public a clearer picture of the evidence that led prosecutors to pursue the historic charge.”
While prosecutors didn’t dispute the fact that Hambrick was armed at the time he was shot, they rejected Delke’s self-defense argument. They noted that the officer stopped running during the chase in order to take aim at him and shoot him from behind. To D.A. Funk’s mind, Delke very much broke the law by opening fire on a man from behind and striking him with three bullets.
While it’s unclear precisely what was going through the mind of Officer Delke at the time of the shooting, the fact that he used deadly force against a man who was running away from him has raised some difficult and uncomfortable questions. According to the warrant, “When Mr. Hambrick continued to run away and did not drop the gun, Officer Delke decided to use deadly force,” the warrant said. “Officer Delke stopped, assumed a firing position, and aimed his service weapon.”
Sadly, it’s tragic incidents like these which make law enforcement an increasingly tricky minefield to navigate. While on one hand, Delke opened fire on an armed suspect who was disobeying orders, and on the other, he killed a man in cold blood on the streets of Nashville. The matter will become a lot clearer after Officer Delke’s preliminary hearing.