The Greenville News filed a lawsuit Monday against the State Law Enforcement Division seeking access to a video and other public records in the case of Zachary Hammond, a teenager shot by a Seneca Police officer in July.
Joined by The Anderson Independent-Mail and The Journal of Seneca, the lawsuit alleges that SLED violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act by withholding the records requested by the newspaper, saying “there is no prospective law enforcement action to be undertaken by defendant, there is no risk of endangering the life, health or property of any person, and there are no matters exempted from disclosure by other statute or law.”
Hammond, 19, was shot and killed in the parking lot of a Hardee’s restaurant on July 26 by Seneca Police Lt. Mark Tiller during an attempted marijuana sting targeting a passenger in Hammond’s car.
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 the Hammond family found that the bullets entered from his side, back to front, which their attorney argues is an indication that 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 recently was turned over to 10th Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams. She declined to release the video, saying she is waiting for information from federal investigators before making a decision on whether to file charges.
In denying The Greenville News’ public records request, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said the video and other items “are sensitive law enforcement records not otherwise available by state and federal law that were compiled in the process of detecting and investigating crime the premature disclosure of which would absolutely harm SLED and its prospective law enforcement action in this matter…”
The lawsuit asks for a judge to view the video and other records in private and decide whether SLED’s reasons for withholding them are valid.
Filed by attorney Jay Bender, an expert in the state's open records law, the lawsuit argues that even if some of the materials are determined to be exempt from public disclosure, SLED violated the law by refusing to release other records that weren't exempt from release.
It seeks a restraining order requiring SLED to release all records in the case that are applicable for public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and legal costs of the lawsuit.