Sara Beth Myers left her job as an assistant United States attorney on Nov. 19 to prepare to run for a new position. The career prosecutor is looking to unseat incumbent Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk, who is running for reelection as he nears the end of his first eight-year term in 2022.
“I’m completely dedicated to this,” Myers tells the Scene over coffee at Thistle Farms, the nonprofit organization where she was a board member for seven years. “And I know what needs to be done. I’ve been a local, state and federal prosecutor. I’ve seen where the gaps are in the system. And I have a track record for policy change. So I am the best-qualified person in this moment for the city.”
Funk told the Scene back in August that he was preparing for a contested race, and now he’s got one. In October, Danielle Nellis, a former prosecutor and judicial clerk, confirmed her candidacy for the office, and Myers is kicking off her campaign this week. Her name had been bandied about for the U.S. attorney job, but now she’s turned her focus toward being Nashville’s top prosecutor.
Myers says she was inspired to go into the law by her father, himself an attorney, and she was the first woman in her family to graduate from college. What changed her professional trajectory, she says, was working with domestic violence survivors through an internship at the DA’s office during law school at Vanderbilt University.
“Working with these survivors and seeing how the criminal justice system in many ways had failed them and their families was an inspiration to me,” Myers says.
She spent almost four years as an assistant district attorney in Nashville under then-DA Torry Johnson, then two years as an assistant prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office before moving on to the U.S. attorney’s office. She worked there for nearly five years, focusing mainly on human trafficking and civil rights cases.
Her campaign against Funk looks to be one portraying him as someone focused on “making headlines instead of change.” Speaking to the Scene, Myers says she would put more energy into strategies aimed at preventing crime rather than just reforming how the office reacts to it. Right now, she says, there’s a “fundamental disconnect” between the rhetoric coming from Funk’s office and the reality in the city, where the homicide rate has increased.
Myers says she would break up the DA’s office into precincts, much like the police department, and hold listening sessions throughout the community so prosecutors can hear what issues people in various communities are facing and allocate resources accordingly. It’s an approach she says would be “more like surgery as opposed to triage.”
Perhaps her largest critique of Funk is a matter of tactics. She takes issue with Funk’s decision to “make headlines” by, for instance, publicly declaring his intention to stop prosecuting simple possession of marijuana. Funk also announced that he would not enforce new laws aimed at abortion rights, transgender people or COVID restrictions. While those stands helped burnish Funk’s progressive bona fides, Myers says the manner in which they were taken was irresponsible.
“Now, whether or not you agree with those broad sentiments is completely beside the point,” she says. “Should you stand up as the number one enforcer of laws in your county and say you’re just generally not going to prosecute things? No, because that’s dangerous, because it will draw the ire of the General Assembly, which is exactly what it did.”
In October, the legislature passed a law giving the state attorney general a new way to circumvent local prosecutors who won’t prosecute certain cases.
Myers does draw a distinction, though, between publicly refusing to enforce certain laws and making her stance on certain sentences clear. Funk has not sought the death penalty as a DA, and Myers says she wouldn’t either. She cites its failure to bring real closure to victims’ families as well as its cost to taxpayers and evidence that it does not act as a deterrent to violent crime.
She also emphasizes a willingness to hold law enforcement officers accountable. She cites the case against former Cheatham County corrections officer Mark Bryant, who repeatedly tased an 18-year-old detainee in a restraint chair. Myers took the case to trial and a jury convicted Bryant.
“As far as I know, I’m the only candidate who has prosecuted, successfully, a law enforcement officer,” Myers says. “And I’ve done it multiple times. And that is because nobody is above the law, and I am not afraid of a jury trial.”
It’s a thinly veiled reference to one of Funk’s most controversial decisions as DA, and one that brought protesters literally to his lawn — the plea deal he struck with former Metro Police Officer Andrew Delke. Rather than going to trial over Delke’s fatal 2018 shooting of Daniel Hambrick, Funk signed off on an agreement whereby Delke pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and is expected to serve no more than a year-and-a-half of a three-year sentence. Funk’s office defended the deal as a success, arguing it guaranteed a conviction and served as a warning to other officers. But the Hambrick family and activists were enraged, criticizing the DA for losing his nerve.
It seems inevitable that Myers will face skepticism from people who doubt that a career prosecutor will bring real change to the DA’s office. But she says her experience at the local, state and federal levels has given her a view of “every aspect” of the system and allowed her to see “that there are holes in the system that can absolutely be repaired.”