The state Supreme Court denied a request by the family of a teenager who was shot and
killed by a Seneca police officer to hear arguments that the solicitor on the case is
compromised by a conflict of interest.
The court issued an order stating that “a citizen lacks standing to contest the decision
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by the prosecuting authority whether to prosecute another when the citizen is neither
prosecuted nor threatened with prosecution.”
Eric Bland, an attorney for the family of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond, had asked the high
court to turn over the decision on whether the officer who shot Hammond should be
prosecuted to the state attorney general.
“The family is very disappointed that the Supreme Court did not agree to take on this most
important matter and seemed to have punted on it,” Bland said.
The family had hoped the court would set a precedent that would take decisions about
possible criminal actions of law enforcement officers out of the hands of prosecutors who
work with those agencies on a routine basis.
Hammond was shot and killed in the parking lot of a Hardee’s restaurant in July by Seneca
Police Lt. Mark Tiller during an attempted marijuana sting targeting a passenger in
Tiller fired two shots through the open driver’s side window because he thought Hammond
was going to run over him, according to Seneca Police Chief John Covington.
An independent autopsy done for Hammond’s family found that the bullets entered from his
side, back to front, which their attorney argues indicates he couldn’t have been in the
path of the car if it was moving.
A dashboard camera in Tiller’s vehicle captured the incident, but it has been in SLED’s
hands since that night and has been turned over to 10th Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams.
In their order denying the petition by Hammond's parents, the five Supreme Court justices
unanimously said the family lacked legal standing to challenge the actions of Adams and
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.
Intervention by the court in any decisions made by Adams or Wilson would violate the
separation of powers clause, the justices ruled.
Citing a U.S. Supreme Court notation in another case, the justices said a prosecutor
exercises "considerable discretion" in determining who should be targets of an
investigation, which methods of investigation should be used, who should be charged, who
should be witnesses and whether anyone should be granted immunity.
Those decisions are all made outside the court's supervision, the justices said, citing
the U.S. Supreme Court notation.
Wilson said in a court filing the Hammonds' petition "would not only represent an
intrusion by the judicial branch into a criminal investigation, but would constitute an
interference with the prosecutorial authority of the circuit solicitor, as well as that of
the attorney general," who is the state's chief prosecuting officer.
The Hammonds had sued Tiller, Covington and the city of Seneca Police Department in
federal court alleging Tiller used excessive force in killing the teenager and Seneca
police were negligent in hiring, training and supervising the department's officers. The
suit seeks unspecified damages.
In a court filing, Covington and the city denied the allegations.