The parents of Zachary Hammond plan a Thursday news conference to further press their claim that the Seneca police officer who in July shot and killed their teenage son during an attempted drug arrest was “an overly aggressive and poorly trained officer who violated every known police protocol.”
Meanwhile the officer, Lt. Mark Tiller, remains on administrative leave and will continue in that status until after federal investigations into the case are completed, Chief John Covington told The Greenville News.
The Hammond family, which is pursuing a civil case in federal court and hopes for action from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, called the news conference for 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the Main Street plaza in downtown Greenville.
The family wants to speak out about a video and photos released by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) on Tuesday after 10th Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams announced her decision not to bring criminal charges against Tiller.
Tiller can be seen on his dash cam video firing at point blank range at Hammond in his car as Hammond appeared to be trying to flee from the parking lot of Hardee’s in Seneca on July 26.
The Hammonds issued a statement Wednesday through their attorneys, Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, saying they “disagree completely” with Tiller’s claim that he feared being run over by the vehicle as he fired two shots into the open driver’s side window.
“While the family must accept Ms. Adams’ decision, they disagree completely with the conclusions she has expressed publicly,” the statement says. “The dash cam video does not show an officer who acted reasonably in self-defense because his life was threatened by Zachary’s vehicle.”
It says Tiller violated his own department’s procedures by approaching the car with his gun drawn, a point Adams agreed with in her analysis of the case in a letter to the SLED.
“Lt. Tiller, who never identified himself as a police officer or showed his badge, dispensed his on-the-spot justice for a crime that had not even been committed,” the family’s statement says. “Quite simply, Tiller decided that he was going to be the judge, jury and executioner for Zachary’s decision to flee the scene.”
Adams cited legal precedents that give latitude to officers who must make split-second decisions on whether their life is in danger and said her analysis of the video indicated that his decision was reasonable under the circumstances.
Another solicitor and experts from the state Criminal Justice Academy agreed with her conclusion, she told SLED in her letter.
The family said in its statement that if Tiller faced any harm, it was the result of his own actions.
“Lt. Tiller was never at risk of harm from Zachary’s car and even if it could be argued that he was, it was a risk he created by running alongside a car that was obviously attempting to flee the scene. It is a clear violation of law and police protocol to fire shots into a fleeing vehicle,” the statement says.
“Even as Lt. Tiller was in the process of shooting Zachary, other Seneca officers were responding to the scene. Zachary had nowhere to go and would have been apprehended easily and peacefully.
“Zachary was obviously frightened, panicked and attempted to leave the scene. He may have been guilty of evading arrest, but this is not a capital offense in America and there was no need to execute Zachary in the Hardee’s parking lot that night.”
The family took issue with a statement issued by Seneca City Administrator Greg Dietterick on Tuesday that referred to “outside agitators” generating discord within the city in the aftermath of the incident and called for healing.
Several protests have been held to push for officials to release the video and other information in the case that had been withheld until Tuesday, despite Freedom of Information Act requests and a lawsuit from The Greenville Newsand two other newspapers.
“The Hammond family shares Mr. Dietterick’s prayer for healing, but it is impossible to heal from an injury that is ignored,” its statement says. “Seneca was not wounded by outside ‘agitators’ – it was wounded by the conduct of its own police force and leadership. The ‘agitators’ have done nothing more than expose the injury.
“While grateful for the prayers offered via press release, the Hammond family remains shunned by the leadership of their hometown, none of whom have had the courage or decency to offer their condolences personally.
“There is indeed much healing to be done in Seneca, but the healing will only come after justice has been served. The Hammond family’s faith in God and Country remains unshaken. There will be justice for Zachary.”