Glenn Funk press conference

District Attorney Glenn Funk speaks in court after Andrew Delke pleads guilty to manslaughter, July 2, 2021

 

On the evening of July 1, as the streetlights were starting to come on, a small crowd was gathering in front of Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk’s Hillsboro-West End home. The group, which included a number of the city’s most visible Black activists, was there to protest a just-announced plea deal that would see former Metro Nashville Police Officer Andrew Delke serve a year-and-a-half of a three-year sentence for the killing of Daniel Hambrick in 2018.

Funk and his family did not appear to be home that night, but the message coming from the street was loud and clear.

“We’re calling on anyone who wants to run against Glenn Funk, come holler at us,” said former public defender and onetime congressional candidate Keeda Haynes during a passionate address to the crowd gathered just beyond Funk’s front yard. Similar calls rang out the following day as a courtroom erupted into chaos when Delke’s plea deal was being finalized.

In 2014, Funk was elected to succeed longtime DA Torry Johnson after spending 25 years as a defense attorney. He defeated Johnson’s hand-picked successor, Rob McGuire, by 10 points in a victory propelled in large part by support from Black voters. Seven years later, Funk is preparing to run for re-election in 2022 and assuming he won’t be alone.

“I hear people say that I’m going to have competition,” Funk tells the Scene. “I am preparing to run a contested race.”

If he is going to have competition, it’s not clear yet who it’s going to be. One obvious potential candidate is Haynes, an attorney with name recognition and credibility among those who want to see dramatic change in the city’s criminal justice system. But she tells the Scene that “as of right now” she is not running.

Haynes does add, though: “Nashville definitely deserves better than Glenn Funk. Particularly Black Nashville deserves better than Glenn Funk.”

Another name bandied about by Metro insiders is Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Beth Myers. She’s gotten buzz for the top prosecutor job in the Middle District but would also make a natural candidate for DA. Reached by the Scene, though, Myers says she can’t comment, citing the legal restrictions associated with her job as a federal prosecutor. (The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees like her from engaging in partisan political activity.)

Other candidates could emerge. For now, Funk will be making his case and, of course, raising money. Beside his status as an incumbent, that’s another obstacle a challenger would have to overcome: Funk’s latest financial disclosure shows he has more than $310,000 on hand. (Disclosure: One max donor is Bill Freeman, the real estate executive and longtime Democratic donor who owns the Scene.)

The Delke deal was, to activists and supporters of the Hambrick family, a stark example of the way that Black lives are devalued in the criminal justice system even under supposedly progressive-minded prosecutors. Asked whether he needs to repair his relationship with Black Nashvillians, Funk acknowledges that the way the Delke case ended was “undoubtedly triggering emotionally for a number of reasons.” He says it was a hard call, but one he believes was right “based upon the facts and the law that we’re going to apply to that case.”

“What I am expecting is that folks will realize an officer for the first time in history was held accountable,” he says. “An officer for the first time in Tennessee history, maybe in the history of the country, was not only convicted of a killing where the person who was shot had a handgun in their hand, but pled guilty to that offense.”

It’s true, as Funk notes, that he also angered organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police by charging Delke with murder in the first place. But the FOP will be happy with at least one of his other positions. He agrees with Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake that the police department needs more funding, not less. He argues better policing will require more cops.

“To get to a place where folks are out of their cars and positioned in the proper zones, to drive down violent crime, we’re gonna need more police officers,” Funk says. “How many more? I’m not the police chief. But it is going to require more police officers trained correctly and doing the job in a way where they’re part of a community and they’re actually preventing crime. You can’t have a statistic where the metrics of a good police officer is how many arrests you make. It’s impossible to quantify ‘how many crimes did you prevent through your presence?’ But I think we’ll see it community-wide if we have those extra resources put into the police department, and they’re deployed correctly under Chief Drake’s leadership.”

Many see Funk as a progressive prosecutor, though, and that’s not completely without merit. He established a Conviction Review Unit, which has acted on several wrongful convictions; against opposition from the Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, he sought to have the death sentence of a Black Nashville prisoner, Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman, replaced with a life sentence because of racism and prosecutorial misconduct during his original trial; he directed his office to stop prosecuting people for simple possession of marijuana; and he has defied the state legislature by announcing he would not enforce one law that requires doctors to tell women that chemical abortions can be reversed, nor would he enforce legislation requiring businesses and public facilities to post signage if they allow transgender people to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

If re-elected, he says he wants to see restorative justice programs expanded into adult courts and continue work around determining and addressing root causes of domestic violence.

Yet there are some — including the people who gathered on Funk’s street earlier this summer, and more beyond that — who say his progressive stances only paper over a system that still disproportionately ensnares poor and nonwhite Nashvillians. There’s no doubt that they’ll continue to push whoever leads the DA’s office. What’s not clear is if someone will step forward and try to take the job.

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