Metro public defender who reported sterilization offer as plea deal speaks out

(WKRN Photo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The public defender who reported to the Davidson County’s District Attorney a long-time child abuse prosecutor asked a client to get sterilized as part of plea negotiations said she did it because it was the first time the offer was formally made.

Mary-Kathryn Harcombe, a public defender for Metro Nashville, said Assistant District Attorney Brian Holmgren had made similar offers in an informal way in the past.

“In the past when sterilization has come up, it has been more of a suggestion, such as is your client willing to get sterilized if so we would take that into account,” Harcombe told News 2. “When I was asking for anything other than lengthy prison time, the exact words were, ‘My hands are tied unless you get her tubes tied.’”

She continued, “Frankly, it took me a minute to take in what he was saying and then I was very offended on the part of my client.”

Harcombe reported the incident to District Attorney Glenn Funk.

Funk took over the case and made it clear that sterilization would not be used as a bargaining tool during the plea negotiation phase.

The cases involved defendants charged with child neglect and abuse.

On Wednesday, Holmgren was fired from the DA’s office. Funk has not said if that is in direct correlation with the sterilization bargaining.

However, Funk did tell News 2 that he found a number of abuse cases that had not been properly handled by the department inside his office that Holmgren worked in for several years.

It is unclear exactly how many other defendants were presented with the option of sterilization.

“I greatly appreciate how Mr. Funk handled this because I was very tentative about going to him because that’s not something we typically do,” Harcombe said. “He immediately responded and made it very clear that this was not something that could go on in his office.”

Her client did not agree to be sterilized. She was later found not guilty by reason of insanity through a negotiated plea agreement to charges in connection with the death of her newborn child.

The YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee sent News 2 a statement when contacted about the sterilization offer in plea agreements.

“The YWCA mission includes empowering women and promoting dignity. We believe forced sterilization is an egregious violation, both disempowering and degrading,” CEO Patricia Shea said via email. “All women deserve the right to make personal healthcare decisions without fear of being threatened or coerced.”

Attempts to reach Holmgren were unsuccessful.

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