The Seneca police officer who shot and killed unarmed teen Zachary Hammond in July during an attempted drug sting had resigned more than a month before the incident occurred, but later changed his mind, his chief said.
Seneca Police Chief John Covington confirmed Lt. Mark Tiller sent in his resignation letter in early June but said the officer rescinded his intent within the three-week time frame allowed, meaning he never left the department.
“Once Lt. Tiller asked for his resignation back, the letter was given back to him,” Covington said in a statement released to The Greenville News.
The department didn’t keep a copy of the letter, he said, and he declined comment on why Tiller decided not to leave the department.
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Neither Tiller nor Covington could be reached for additional comment. Tiller is on administrative leave pending the outcome of investigations by the State Law Enforcement Division and federal authorities.
A federal lawsuit filed by the parents of Hammond, 19, claims the teen was unarmed and killed during a drug sting aimed at a passenger in his car and went wrong July 26 outside of a Hardee’s restaurant. Named as defendants are Tiller, Covington and the Seneca Police Department.
The resignation disclosure was contained in the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Anderson.
Tiller has said he fired in self-defense, believing Hammond was trying to run over him with his car.
In a statement, the city of Seneca said it has cooperated with investigators. “Like everyone involved we await its conclusion.”
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, said Hammond didn’t drive his car at Tiller. It alleges Tiller used excessive force in killing the teenager and Seneca police were negligent in hiring, training and supervising the department’s officers.
The lawsuit alleges Tiller wasn’t disciplined by Seneca police for several infractions before Hammond was killed and, in fact, was promoted three times in 18 months. The lawsuit also raises questions about Tiller’s personal life that allegedly disrupted the department’s workplace.
It said Seneca police promulgated several policies and procedures known as general orders, or GOs, that should have applied to the shooting in the Hardee’s parking lot.
“If properly trained and supervised, GO 180 would have further instructed Lt. Tiller on the use of ‘control continuum,’ through which lethal force is only appropriate if the officer has failed to gain control of a situation through a) officer presence, b) verbal directions/commands, c) empty hand control, pepper spray, Taser or d) hard empty hand/ASP baton,” according to the lawsuit.
In August, Seneca police released Tiller’s personnel file showing he received an “excellent” grade in five of six categories on his evaluation dated three weeks before Hammond’s shooting.
Tiller was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant on Aug. 9, 2014. His 2015 evaluation was done less than 11 months later on June 29, according to the documents.
Covington released the personnel file in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from The Greenville News and other media.
Tiller was given a raise with his promotion – from $17.22 an hour to $18.25 an hour. His only mark that wasn’t “excellent” in the June 29 performance review was in job knowledge, in which he was rated “good,” giving him a score of 29 out of a possible 30 points.
A SLED check showed Tiller has no criminal record.
Tiller was hired as an officer with the Seneca Police Department on Jan. 15, 2010, and was promoted in February 2011 to corporal/warrant officer, according to the file. He was promoted to sergeant on Jan. 31, 2013.
Before starting the job at Seneca, he was employed by the Clemson Police Department.
He has 10 years of experience in law enforcement, the chief has said.
Staff writer Ron Barnett contributed.