Tenth Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams should not be removed from the case of an unarmed man to death shot by a Seneca Police officer as requested by the teen's family, because to do so would require the Legislature to change the law pertaining to prosecution of criminal cases, the state attorney general argued in a document filed with the state Supreme Court.
Attorney General Alan Wilson filed the response on behalf of his office and the solicitor’s office, saying the family of Zachary Hammond has no legal standing to ask the high court to take up the matter.
"Such a request is unprecedented and should patently fail for many reasons," Wilson wrote.
The family’s attorneys argued that Adams has shown that she has a conflict of interest in deciding whether to bring charges against a law enforcement officer within her jurisdiction.
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They also seek a ruling by the Supreme Court that would remove local solicitors from all such cases involving officers within their circuits, citing the opinion of a University of South Carolina law professor.
“To ask this Court to recuse all circuit solicitors who investigate and make prosecutorial decisions concerning a police officer in his or her circuit, based upon the opinion of a law professor, is absurd,” the attorney general wrote. “Each case stands on its own and it is well within the power of the circuit court at the urging of the defendant to assess individual cases based upon the particular facts and circumstances present.”
The State Law Enforcement Division has given Adams its report of its investigation into the July 26 shooting in the parking lot of a Hardee’s restaurant. Hammond, 19, was shot during an attempted marijuana sting in which a passenger in his car was a suspect.
Lt. Mark Tiller said he fired two shots in self-defense because he believed Hammond was trying to run over him with his car.
Neither Adams nor SLED have released a video shot by the dashboard camera in Tiller’s vehicle, or the contents of the investigative report, despite repeated pleas by the Hammond family and Freedom of Information Act requests from The Greenville News and other media.
Adams said last week she is waiting for reports from federal authorities who also are investigating and that it could be “several weeks” before she announces a decision.
The Hammonds had asked the Supreme Court to respond directly to its request to remove Adams, rather than going through lower courts first, saying it was a matter of urgency. They asked the attorney general to take over the shooting case or turn it over to a solicitor in another circuit.
Wilson argued that they had no legal standing to ask the high court to take the case directly because case law indicates that only those who are the target of a criminal investigation would have such a right.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “a private citizen lacks a judicially cognizable interest in the prosecution or nonprosecution of another,” Wilson noted.
He also cited cases in which prosecutors who had a conflict of interest in cases based on their legal role were not barred from representing the state in those cases.
“Further, it would be unprecedented for this Court to create a per se, blanket rule of recusal of the Circuit Solicitor’s Office simply because that Solicitor’s Office might be called upon to investigate and make a prosecutorial decision concerning the actions of a law enforcement officer in his or her circuit,” Wilson wrote.
“This court has never so held. Indeed, to the contrary, the exact opposite is true.
“The requirement for any such ‘blanket’ recusal should come from the General Assembly, rather than by a decision in the original jurisdiction of this Court.”
The Hammonds’ attorney, Eric Bland, argued that Adams showed her bias in petitioning a Family Court judge to unseal “irrelevant” juvenile records about Hammond, which, according to his pleading, she said would prove that Hammond intended to run over Tiller on the night he was shot.