The family of a black Tennessee man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Nashville in July sued the officer and the city on Monday, saying its Police Department discriminates against black people and that its officers are too quick to use lethal force.
The 34-page suit, filed in United States District Court, states that Officer Andrew Delke of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department had internalized a police culture of “fear, violence, racism, and impunity” that in part motivated his fatal shooting of the man, Daniel Hambrick, 25.
The lawsuit, which seeks $30 million in punitive damages, said police officers in Nashville are trained to be paranoid and believe that “without constant police vigilance and the threat of police violence Nashville’s black community would degenerate into violence and anarchy.”
Joy S. Kimbrough, who is representing Mr. Hambrick’s family, said at a news conference in Nashville on Monday that what was done to Mr. Hambrick was “beyond some misconduct.” She added, “We want the responsible party to be responsible for their actions.”
The lawsuit was filed nearly two months after a Nashville grand jury indicted Officer Delke on a first-degree murder charge in connection with the July 26 shooting. The authorities said Officer Delke shot Mr. Hambrick several times as Mr. Hambrick, who had a gun, was running away from him. A date for the murder trial has not been set.
The local police union has been particularly critical of the decision by prosecutors to charge Officer Delke. The case, which The Tennessean reported is the first time a Nashville officer had faced criminal charges in connection with an on-duty shooting, spurred protests in Nashville and drew national attention as police officers across the country face heightened scrutiny over the killing of minorities, particularly black men. Criminal convictions of police officers, however, remain rare.
In November, voters in Nashville approved a measure to create an oversight board to investigate allegations of misconduct against police officers.
The Nashville police on Monday defended the training of its officers.
“The Metropolitan Police Department takes strong issue with this inflammatory attack on the department as a whole, our officers and our training academy,” the Nashville police said in an emailed statement about the lawsuit on Monday. “The Metropolitan Police Department, through counsel, looks forward to vigorously defending this lawsuit and correcting the plethora of misinformation it contains.”
Officer Delke, who has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, remains on the police force and is on an assignment that does not involve police duties, according to David L. Raybin, a lawyer who is representing him in the criminal case.
Officer Delke has previously said that Mr. Hambrick pointed a gun at him.
“Tennessee law permits a police officer to use deadly force when there is a danger to others,” Mr. Raybin said last year. “Officer Delke was protecting himself, his backup officers and the public.”
Mr. Raybin said he expected the city to assign a lawyer to defend Officer Delke against Monday’s lawsuit.
“He’s not going to make any statements at this point,” Mr. Raybin said of Officer Delke.
Jon Cooper, the director of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville Department of Law, said in an email Monday that the department “does not comment regarding pending federal court litigation.”
An affidavit filed last year by an investigator with the Nashville-Davidson County district attorney’s office said Officer Delke was patrolling on July 26 in North Nashville when he grew suspicious of a white Chevrolet Impala, apparently because it had stopped at a stop sign and conceded the right of way to him.
Officer Delke ran the Impala’s license place and learned it was not stolen, but he “continued to follow to see if he could develop a reason to stop the Impala,” the affidavit said.
He lost track of the Impala but later pulled into a parking lot near another white sedan, which he mistook for the Impala, the affidavit said.
Mr. Hambrick, who was near the vehicle, began running, and Officer Delke chased him, even though he did not know if the man was connected to either vehicle, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit said Officer Delke fired at Mr. Hambrick four times, striking him three times, once in the back of the head, once in the back and once in the left torso.