The official account of the police shooting death of Zachary Hammond in Seneca, South Carolina, on July 26 is not only being questioned by his parents and attorneys but they’ve gone a step further and called for a federal investigation into the incident by the Department of Justice. Attorney Eric Bland, whose firm represents the family of Zachary Hammond, released a statement Tuesday regarding the request for a federal probe into the 19-year-old’s death.
WYFF in Greenville reported August 10 that the family of Zachary Hammond have put in a formal request to the Department of Justice to investigate the death of the teenager, who, according to Seneca Police, was shot and killed by a police officer during a drug sting in a Hardees parking lot. The official police account maintains that the officer, identified as Lt. Mark Tiller, claimed to be in fear for his life when he shot the teen. Tiller said that when he approached Hammond and a passenger in their vehicle, Hammond drove toward him and he fired his weapon.
Hammond was struck twice, once in the left side and once in the upper left back. An official autopsy and an independent autopsy were performed where findings were basically the same. However, the interpretation of the shooting itself seems to be a matter of contention.
Bland, writing in the name of the firm Bland Richter asked the “Justice Department, US Attorney’s Office and FBI intervene in the ongoing investigation into the death of Zachary Hammond because of the substantial violations of his civil rights and the need for a transparent and independent investigation of the Seneca Police Department’s policies, procedures and practices.”
An article in the Charleston Post and Courier noted that the Seneca Police gave Lt. Mark Tiller a high evaluation just weeks before he shot and killed the 19-year-old Taylor. The officer’s records indicate he has been involved in policing since 2006.
Tiller’s attorney, according to Huffington Post, is also maintaining that the officer fired his weapon in self-defense. Tiller said he shot at Hammond when he accelerated the car in reverse at the officer. He noted Tiller pushed himself away from the car and then shot at the moving vehicle.
The Hammond family’s independent autopsy concluded that Tiller had to have been alongside the car and firing into the window for the teen to have suffered the wounds from which he died. Bland said it would have been rather difficult for an off-lance officer to push off and reestablish himself in order to fire two shots into the moving car.
Bland also said in a statement: “There was no warrant for his arrest. There was no APB for him or his car. There was no murder or [life] that was in danger if shots were not fired and the automobile continued on to leave Hardees. There was no AMBER alert. There was no ticking bomb situation. This is clearly made up. It is ridiculous.”
Eric Bland told the Post and Courier that, a good evaluation or not, his firm had received several reports of incidents involving Tiller “that one would ordinarily expect would become part of his personnel file as either a verbal or written write up.” Although he didn’t offer specifics at the time, he said that those incidents would be discussed with Solicitor Chrissy Adams in the future.
As for the passenger in Zachary Hammond’s car on the night of the shooting, she was arrested. Tori Dianna Morton, 23, was charged with simple possession of marijuana. It is as yet unclear what her role will be going forward, but given that she is undoubtedly a witness to the shooting, what she has to say may shed light on what actually happened that night in that Hardees parking lot.