In Anderson, South Carolina, the 10th circuit county criminal court has exonerated Lt. Mark Tiller of the Seneca Police Department who was accused of wrongfully and negligently fatally shooting an unarmed teenager on July 26, 2015 over suspected marihuana possession and intent to sell. The incident in question occurred when Lt. Tiller drove on to an unidentified fast-food parking lot where he came upon Zachary Hammond, 19, of Seneca, South Carolina who was believed to be in possession of marijuana. Shots were fired by Lt. Tiller who defended his actions by claiming that he felt a fear for his life believing that Hammond was attempting to run over the officer with Hammond’s vehicle. The prosecutor informed Hammond’s family today that based on the evidence and testimony, they would not be filing criminal charges against the officer.
The family of the deceased has hired attorney, Eric Bland to file civil charges against Lt. Tiller and the county. Bland is arguing that the dashboard camera from the police car does not show that the officer was in danger of being run over and certainly not when he decided to fatally shoot the alleged suspect. In addition, the family plans to file federal charges for civil rights violations.
“We’re going forward on our civil suit at this point. It’s just a sad day to see an unarmed kid who was shot unnecessarily by excessive force where it clearly violated all the police policies.”
— Eric Bland, attorney for the victim
“The video viewed at full speed, standing alone, is troublesome. However, … the evidence from this investigation corroborates and supports Lt. (Mark) Tiller’s belief that he was going to be run over.”
— Chrissy Adams, 10th Circuit Court Solicitor
Reportedly, the toxicology report indicated that the victim did in fact have drugs in his body at the time of the shooting. According to Adams, the toxicology report also showed positive markers for cocaine and marijuana and both drugs were packaged with the intent to sell, discovered in the suspect’s vehicle. Based on the toxicology report and depending how much of the drugs were in Hammond’s system, it is reasonable to suggest that he was not in the right state of mind when he attempted to flee from the officer. Adams also argues that in view of the dash camera video, Lt. Tiller did not break any laws, policies, or procedures to warrant an arrest against Tiller. The county prosecutors believe that Lt. Tiller’s actions were legal and justified.
Other evidence taken at the scene included Hammond’s cellphone which included text messages with the following messages: “..in full outlaw mode and …go out shooting.” Other evidence included reports that Hammond evaded several police checkpoints in the prior weeks. While, this information does support the officer’s justification, I would argue in my expert opinion as a Criminologist that there is possible way that Lt. Tiller could have known that (1) Hammond had cocaine and marijuana in his system, (2) Hammond had text messages sent out that he planned to engage in some type of cowboy shootout, or have known his state of mind. Now, it is plausible to suggest that Lt. Tiller was aware of specific vehicles suspected of evading police checkpoints in the past based on prior police reports and perhaps even that Hammond was a person of interest suspected of selling drugs but it is apparent that this information only came to light during the gathering of evidence after the shooting. On the other hand, there is alleged evidence by Adams that said other text messages included previous statements that he acknowledged he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest and he had planned to avoid the police at all costs but, once again, this was not information that Lt. Tiller could have known at the time of the shooting. Another question is why didn’t the officer wait for backup? In the video, the officer walked towards the front of Hammond’s vehicle with his weapon drawn, The video does not show the actual shooting but why didn’t the officer get back in his vehicle and call for backup in pursuit of the suspect? The courts have agreed that the officer was justified for his shooting but I have to wonder why nobody has challenged the officer’s actions leading up to the shooting?
Notwithstanding, Eric Band is still arguing that a police officer used excessive force against an unarmed teenager. However, police officers are trained to react with split second decisions which could be the difference between life and death situations. Thus, the question remains; Did the officer use excessive force? Did Hammond resist arrest and if so, did he really attempt to run over the police officer? — Or, was it the police officer who was acting like a cowboy at a shootout and then hoped to somehow justify his actions after the fact?
Click here for dash camera video [X]