UPDATE: Seneca Police on Friday released the name of the officer involved in the shooting of Zachary Hammond. Read the updated story here.
Zachary Hammond was on a first date when he was fatally shot by a police officer in his car during a drug bust in South Carolina, his family says.
At the time the 19-year-old was shot and killed, his date, Tori Morton, was eating an ice cream cone, according to the family’s attorney, Eric Bland.
Morton, 23, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana — all 10 grams of it — which, according to police, was the reason undercover agents set up the drug buy.
The official police report never mentioned the two gunshots that killed Hammond on July 26 in a Hardees parking lot. Seneca police say a second report — which has not been released to the public — details the officer’s account of the shooting.
Amid heightened scrutiny of fatal police shootings across the country, Hammond’s death has prompted numerous questions, few answers — and almost no national outrage.
More than a week after Hammond’s death, his family’s attorney says race is almost certainly playing a role in the disconcerting silence. Unlike the victims in the highest-profile police shootings over the past year — in cities from Ferguson and Cleveland to North Charleston and Cincinnati — Hammond was white.
“It’s sad, but I think the reason is, unfortunately, the media and our government officials have treated the death of an unarmed white teenager differently than they would have if this were a death of an unarmed black teen,” Bland told The Washington Post this week. “The hypocrisy that has been shown toward this is really disconcerting.”
He added: “The issue should never be what is the color of the victim. The issue should be: Why was an unarmed teen gunned down in a situation where deadly force was not even justified?”
So far this year, 25 percent of the people shot dead by police have been black, according to data collected by the Washington Post. But black people make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population.
Police say the officer was a victim of “attempted murder” by Hammond, who was driving the vehicle. According to Seneca Police Chief John Covington, Hammond was driving the car “toward the officer” who was trying to make the stop.
The officer fired twice, striking Hammond in the shoulder and torso.
His death was classified as a homicide; an autopsy conducted by the Oconee County Coroner’s Office did not specify from which direction the bullets hit Hammond’s body.
On Wednesday, Hammond’s family released the results of a private autopsy, which concluded that both bullets entered Hammond’s body from the back. According to the autopsy, the second bullet proved to be fatal, entering from the back of Hammond’s left side and passing through his chest, piercing his lungs and heart.
In a statement Wednesday, Coroner Karl E. Addis said he does not know how Hammond’s body was positioned at the time he was shot.
The facts of the fatal shooting are not unlike other cases that have prompted national outcry — most recently the shooting death of Sam DuBose, an unarmed black man who was shot dead during a traffic stop by a University of Cincinnati police officer. Officials released police dashboard camera footage of the incident which appeared to contradict the officer’s report that he was being dragged by DuBose’s vehicle. The video showed that the car was not moving when the weapon was fired and the officer was named and charged with murder.
The officer, who has been placed on administrative leave while the investigation is pending, used a similar rationale as the one in Cincinnati — that the vehicle was being used as a weapon.
“The driver accelerated and came toward the officer,” Covington, the police chief, said a day after the shooting, according to Fox Carolina. The officer “fired two shots in self-defense, which unfortunately were fatal for the suspect.”
Initially, Covington said his department would not release the officer’s name because of fear that it would “possibly subject the officer and family to harassment, intimidation or abuse.” But on Thursday, he told the Washington Post that the officer’s name and the report of the shooting would be released in “the next few days.”
The response to Hammond’s death has been disappointingly muted in Seneca, in South Carolina and nationally, said Bland, the family lawyer. He insists there would be more focus on the case if Hammond had been black.
“They’re called the civil rights organizations, they’re not called the black rights organizations,” Bland said. “The color of his skin should not matter. White-on-white crime does not get the same impact as white-on-black crime.”
Black activists are similarly asking why more people who countered the Black Lives Matter movement by saying “All Lives Matter” have been so silent on Hammond’s death.
There are a number of unanswered questions that remain in the case, which is being investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
A spokesman for SLED, Thom Berry, confirmed that dashboard video of the incident does exist and is part of the ongoing investigation. Berry said it has not yet been determined whether that video will be released.
“The whole issue of race is getting distorted and what’s getting lost is the real issue which is excessive force,” said Bland, the attorney. “All people need to be outraged by this. All people need to be asking the hard questions.”
[This story was originally published on Aug. 6 and has been updated multiple times.]
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the amount of marijuana found in the vehicle. It was 10 grams, not 10 ounces. The post has been updated.