Pubdate: Wed, 28 Oct 2015
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2015 The New York Times Company
Author: Richard A. Oppel


A local prosecutor in South Carolina said Tuesday that she would not 
bring charges against a police lieutenant who fatally shot a 
19-year-old man during an attempted drug arrest in a Hardee's parking 
lot in July.

The case has drawn outrage in some quarters, partly because a private 
autopsy on the man, Zachary Hammond, who was unarmed, indicated that 
he had been shot from the side and the back, and through his car's side window.

That seemed to contradict the account of the officer who killed him, 
Lt. Mark Tiller of the Seneca Police Department, who said that he had 
fired two shots at point-blank range because Mr. Hammond had rapidly 
accelerated as he drove toward the officer, and that he would have 
been run over had he not pushed himself off Mr. Hammond's car.

Investigators refused for months to release video of the shooting 
from the officer's dashboard camera. That graphic video was released 
on Tuesday, and it did little to mollify Mr. Hammond's family or their lawyer.

In it, Lieutenant Tiller is seen moving quickly on foot toward the 
driver's side of Mr. Hammond's car, which has backed up and is 
beginning to turn so it is parallel with the curb at the back of the 
parking lot. Then it begins to speed away. Lieutenant Tiller fires 
his first shot just after using his left hand to push off Mr. 
Hammond's car near the driver's-side mirror; he fires the second shot 
as Mr. Hammond passes him.

An undercover officer was on the other side of Mr. Hammond's car when 
the shooting occurred. "Hands up! Put 'em up!" one of the officers is 
heard shouting in the video. Then Lieutenant Tiller, weapon drawn, 
shouts: "Stop! Stop! Stop!"

Chrissy T. Adams, the prosecutor who declined to bring charges, said 
in a letter explaining her decision to state law enforcement 
officials that the video, "viewed at full speed, standing alone, is 

However, she said: "The evidence from this investigation corroborates 
and supports Lieutenant 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."

Toxicology reports, Ms. Adams said, showed that Mr. Hammond had 
tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. Cocaine was found in the 
pocket of his shorts, she said, and marijuana was found in his car.

Yet in her letter, Ms. Adams also criticized Lieutenant Tiller's 
actions, saying it had been "improper" for him to run up to Mr. 
Hammond's car instead of staying behind the door of his own patrol 
car. With the officer's improper approach and position, she 
suggested, "control of the situation was lost."

She also noted that federal officials were reviewing the case to 
"determine if any federal charges, not available under state law, 
would be appropriate."

The Justice Department opened an inquiry in August, several weeks 
after the shooting. A department official said on Tuesday that the 
investigation was continuing, but that the department had "nothing 
further to release" now. Lieutenant Tiller is white, as was Mr. Hammond.

In an interview, a lawyer for the Hammond family, Eric Bland, said 
Mr. Hammond's parents were disappointed with the prosecutor's 
decision. Mr. Bland suggested that Lieutenant Tiller had provoked the 
deadly confrontation and that it had been his decision to place 
himself so close to Mr. Hammond's car.

"The officer put himself in an unreasonable position with how he came 
in hot, with guns drawn," Mr. Bland said. "His life was never in danger."

Mr. Bland said he believed Lieutenant Tiller had killed Mr. Hammond 
because he had thought to himself, "I'm so mad at this kid who fled 
in his car, I'm going to shoot you."

Mr. Bland also said that during a meeting with Ms. Adams, she had 
told him that she would not be able to win a conviction in her 
jurisdiction, but that "she was very troubled by the video itself." 
The Hammond family has also filed a lawsuit in civil court against 
the officer and the Seneca Police Department.

In a statement, the officer's lawyer, John M. Mussetto, said 
Lieutenant Tiller had "acted in self-defense, and the decision today 
supports this position."
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