The mother of a Black man who was fatally shot while he was running away from a white Nashville police officer begged a judge on Friday not to accept a plea deal that would send the former officer to jail for only three years.
The mother, Vickie Hambrick, cried and screamed as she pounded and knocked over a courtroom lectern, saying she had not been consulted before prosecutors agreed to allow the former officer, Andrew Delke, to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter for shooting her son, Daniel Hambrick, 25, in the back on July 26, 2018.
Mr. Delke, 27, had been facing trial on a first-degree murder charge that could have resulted in a life sentence.
“I can’t believe this, Judge, I can’t believe this,” Ms. Hambrick said in Nashville criminal court. “What if it was your child instead of my child? It would have been a different story.”
Ms. Hambrick, who is legally blind, was held back by her lawyer and others as she knocked over the lectern and lunged in Mr. Delke’s direction, knocking over a computer monitor and briefly disrupting the hearing. Ms. Hambrick and her relatives said they had wanted the case to go to trial on the murder charge.
“We didn’t get a chance!” a man wearing a “Hambrick Strong” shirt declared as Ms. Hambrick, her family members and others were led out of the courtroom. “Three years!”
When the hearing reconvened, the judge, Monte D. Watkins, accepted the deal, finding that Mr. Delke had freely agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. He sentenced Mr. Delke to three years in jail.
Mr. Delke’s lawyers said that with standard jail credits, Mr. Delke would serve about a year and a half in jail and would then be allowed to return home without probation or parole.
Glenn R. Funk, the Nashville district attorney, defended the deal after the hearing, saying he was concerned that a jury might not have convicted Mr. Delke had the case gone to trial. He noted that Mr. Hambrick was holding a gun when he was shot.
“Members of my office on the trial team acknowledged that there was a well over 50 percent chance that this jury would hang,” Mr. Funk said after the hearing, adding that he had been warned that a jury could have split along racial lines. “And no verdict, no judgment, no accountability — the emotion that we saw in this courtroom today would have been played out 100-fold, if there had been no accountability in this case.”
Before Mr. Delke’s guilty plea, a Nashville police officer had never been convicted in the on-duty shooting of a Black man, Mr. Funk said.
“Well, now there has been,” Mr. Funk said. “He’s been convicted. He’s a convicted felon, a convicted felon for the rest of his life.”
Mr. Delke, who resigned from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department on Thursday, had been serving on a juvenile crime task force and was assigned to look for stolen cars and known juvenile offenders on the day he shot Mr. Hambrick, prosecutors said.
While patrolling in North Nashville, Mr. Delke began to follow a white Chevrolet Impala that had stopped at a stop sign. After running the Impala’s license plate and learning that the car was not stolen, Mr. Delke continued to follow the car and turned on his blue lights, prosecutors said. During the pursuit, he lost track of the Impala and never saw the driver or anyone inside the car, prosecutors said.
Later, Mr. Delke pulled into the parking lot after seeing a different white car drive into the lot, prosecutors said. Several people were in the area, and one of them, Mr. Hambrick, began to run, prosecutors said. Mr. Delke immediately began to run after Mr. Hambrick, yelling at him to stop.
During the chase, Mr. Delke saw that Mr. Hambrick had a gun in his hand and yelled at him to “stop,” “drop the gun” and “drop the gun or I’ll shoot,” prosecutors said.
When Mr. Hambrick continued to run and did not drop the gun, Mr. Delke stopped, aimed his gun at Mr. Hambrick and fired four shots from about 51 feet away, prosecutors said. One shot struck Mr. Hambrick in the back, another hit him in the torso and a third hit him in the head. The fourth shot missed, prosecutors said.
A medical examiner determined that Mr. Hambrick had died of multiple gunshot wounds and that the manner of death was homicide, prosecutors said. The episode was captured on surveillance video.
In court, Mr. Delke said he was pleading guilty because he recognized that his use of deadly force “was not reasonably necessary under all circumstances.”
“I recognize that what happened on July 26, 2018, was tragic,” he said. “Ms. Hambrick lost her son that day, and I am responsible for her loss. These are facts that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.”
He added that “not a day has gone by that I have not thought about my actions.”
“I am deeply sorry for the harm my actions caused,” Mr. Delke said, “and I hope that Mr. Hambrick’s family will obtain some comfort from my acceptance of responsibility, and my guilty plea today.”
After Mr. Delke spoke, Ms. Hambrick cursed at him, told him she did not accept his apology and screamed, “I hate you.”
Her lawyer, Joy Kimbrough, read a statement on Ms. Hambrick’s behalf in court in which she criticized the plea agreement as a “back-room bargain.”
“I am against the way the state and the defense joined hands to protect this racist, biased, anti-Black criminal system,” Ms. Hambrick’s statement said.
Ms. Hambrick described her son as the “love of my life.” She said he had recognized from an early age that his mother was blind and had always said that he would take care of her.
“My son was my eyes,” Ms. Hambrick’s statement said. “There is not one hour that goes by that I do not think of Daniel.”