Lieutenant Mark Tiller, a Seneca, South Carolina police officer, will not be charged in the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old teen. Lieutenant Tiller confronted Zachary Hammond, a known drug user, in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant in July of this year. Lt. Tiller drew his weapon and fired two shots through the open driver’s side window, hitting and killing the 2014 graduate of Seneca High School. The officer claimed Hammond was attempting to run him down with his car.
Writes MSN News on Oct. 27: “Tenth Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams said Tuesday that no charges will be filed against the officer who fatally shot Seneca teen Zachary Hammond. Adams said she met with Hammond’s family Tuesday to inform them of the decision… The officer said he shot Hammond because he feared the teenager was trying to run over him with his car.”
On July 26, Hammond and his 24-year-old girlfriend were in the parking lot of a Hardee’s fast food restaurant on Highway 123 in Seneca, a city in Oconee County, northwest South Carolina. Undercover police had arranged to purchase drugs from Hammond’s girlfriend, Tori Dianna Morton of Pickens, who had accidentally sent a text message arranging a cocaine and marijuana deal to a South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper. According to CNN, the trooper’s cell number differed by one digit.
Police dashcam video of the shooting, seen here, shows undercover Sgt. B.J. McClure parked in a truck next to Hammond’s Honda Civic. McClure calls for backup, and Tiller arrives in his police vehicle. Lt. Tiller parks his vehicle behind Hammond, on an angle, and approaches the driver’s side window. Hammond backs up, and attempts to flee. Tiller, standing near the front corner of the vehicle, shoots and kills Hammond as he tries to drive off.
Investigators said Hammond was attempting to run over Tiller. Hammond’s family however strongly disagrees.
“Zachary, no question, tried to leave. But it’s clear he didn’t turn to run over Lt. Tiller, but Tiller put himself in a position of danger,” said Eric Bland, an attorney who is representing Zachary’s parents, Paul and Angie Hammond.
“Tiller just comes in hot,” Bland said. “He put himself in harm’s way so he could use deadly force. Zachary wasn’t fleeing to hurt someone. He was fleeing because someone came at him with a gun… We’re very disappointed in that the solicitor didn’t bring any state law criminal charges. We vehemently disagree with her conclusion. If you look at the (police dashcam) video, it’s clear that he didn’t follow any proper police procedure.”
The family previously said that their son was shot from behind, and that Lieutenant Mark Tiller had already jumped out from the front of the vehicle before he fired the fatal shots.
In Adams’ statement, she wrote:
“After careful consideration of the facts of the case, a thorough review of the state investigation, and an extensive review of all applicable law, I have determined that no criminal charges should be filed against Lt. Mark Tiller at the state level.”
Seneca City Administrator Greg Dietterick also released the following statement:
“The past three months have been extremely difficult for the residents of Seneca, its city employees and the 45 members of its police force. While the effects of outside agitators to tear apart our community lingers, we are thankful the investigation has come to an end and shows Lt. Tiller was acting in self-defense.”
Dietterick said Adams was vilified and suffered “personal attacks” while investigating the incident.
“The night of July 26 was a tragic event for this community and I personally will always grieve for the Hammond family. I would like to thank the hard work of the local and state investigators who handled the cases expertly and professionally. I would like to thank Solicitor Adams, who suffered numerous personal attacks, for her diligence,” he said.
Prosecutors said Hammond’s history and legal priors played into the decision that he was attempting to injure Tiller. “The evidence from this investigation corroborates and supports Lt. Tiller’s belief that he was going to be run over. Therefore, the only conclusion that can be rendered is that deadly force was justified,” Adams said, adding that Hammond “was actively resisting arrest and attempting to evade arrest by flight.”
A toxicology report of Hammond’s body showed the presence of marijuana, cocaine and Levamisole, a cutting agent used in cocaine. Hammond had an outstanding warrant against him for failing to appear in court, and text messages obtained by investigators showed Hammond spoke of being “in full outlaw mode” and that he would “go out shootin.” Shortly before his death, Hammond had the word “Outlaw” tattooed onto his arm.
“Almost every text message deals with Hammond selling drugs to multiple individuals including marijuana, acid, cocaine and prescription pills,” Adams wrote. “The text messages indicate that Hammond had been on a dangerous and destructive course for a significant period of his life.”
Based on the video, do you think Lieutenant Mark Tiller was acting in self-defense?