After three months of stalling, three South Carolina newspapers are suing the State Law Enforcement Division, demanding the agency release dashcam footage of the fatal police shooting involving 19-year-old Zachary Hammond.
The Anderson Independent-Mail, The Greenville News and The Journal of Seneca say SLED is breaking the state’s Freedom of Information Act by refusing to turn over the video, which captures the July 26 killing.
The teen was shot twice by Seneca police Lt. Mark Tiller who claimed Hammond drove his car directly at him while he was attempting to make a petty drug arrest.
“The driver accelerated and came toward the officer. He fired two shots in self-defense, which unfortunately were fatal for the suspect,” Seneca Police Chief John Covington said.
An autopsy found that Hammond was shot twice – once in the left shoulder from behind, and once in the left side of his chest.
“The findings are telling,” Hammond family attorney Eric Bland has said. “They directly contradict the narrative that Chief Covington has tried to shape in this matter. It was deceptive to state that Zachary was shot in the ‘chest and shoulder.’ It did not give it proper context. It implied that the officer shot Zachary from the front. He did not. The shots were clearly fired from the side to the rear of the vehicle through [the] driver’s open window at close range.”
As Joshua Hotchkin detailed in a CopBlock.org report directly following the incidnet:
The shot(s) that killed Hammond were fired through the side window of the drivers side door. Let that sink in for a minute. How can you fire at a person through a side window if the car is positioned in such a way that is is aimed at you? Are police powers so great that the can defy the very laws of physics? Does having a shiny badge grant extra-natural rights and powers as well as legal ones?
As you can see from the illustration, the angles at which one can reasonably be expected to shoot a bullet through a side window at the driver happen to be angles in which the car could not possibly be considered ‘aimed at’ the shooter. So either the officer has some supernatural capabilities with his weapon, or the Seneca police are lying.
In a letter sent to the U.S. Attorney General and the FBI Director demanding a civil rights investigation in August, family lawyers said witnesses saw police officers celebrate the shooting of Zachary Hammond by “high-fiving” his dead body.
According to the letter, “…a police officer with a neighboring police force has confirmed to SLED that the Seneca Police Department celebrated the killing of Zachary by desecrating his corpse. After Zachary had been shot and killed, members of the Seneca Police Department lifted his dead hand and ‘high fived’ Zachary Hammond.”
The letter also claimed that according to a witness, “… the officer who opened Zachary’s door and pulled his dead body from the vehicle then went ‘to the trunk of his police car and pulled something out. The officer walked back over to the man on the ground, rolled him over to his side, put something underneath his body, and then rolled him back.’”
A small amount of marijuana was reportedly found on Hammond’s date.
Hammond’s parents, Paul and Angie, held a press conference in September that addressed the “blue wall” of silence preventing them from learning what really happened to their son. Police still refuse to release the video of the shooting.
The family hopes the legal action taken by the three newspapers will prompt the release of the footage.
SLED says it doesn’t have to release the video because it is part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Prosecutors have not yet decided if Tiller will face criminal charges for the shooting or not.