Police in South Carolina on Friday named the officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Zachary Hammond during a minor drug bust last month.
Lt. Mark Tiller, a 10-year law enforcement veteran, fired two shots, killing Hammond outside a Hardee’s in Seneca, S.C. on July 26.
The shooting raised questions about why Hammond’s death at the hands of a law enforcement officer had not prompted the same national outcry as recent shootings involving African Americans.
Seneca police had initially refused to release Tiller’s name, citing concern for his safety. But in response to several Freedom of Information Act requests, the department relented Friday.
Police said that the shooting occurred during a drug sting. The passenger in Hammond’s vehicle, 23-year-old Tori Morton, was believed to be carrying drugs, according to the police report. Morton was later charged with simple possession of 10 grams of marijuana.
In a statement from an attorney representing Tiller, the officer said that upon arriving at the scene, he ordered Hammond to show his hands.
“Rather than abide by this order, Mr. Hammond rapidly reversed his vehicle towards Lieutenant Tiller’s patrol vehicle,” Tiller’s attorney, John M. Mussetto, said in the statement. “Mr. Hammond then rapidly accelerated in the direction of Lieutenant Tiller, forcing the lieutenant to push off of Mr. Harnmond’s car to keep from being struck and run over.
“In order to stop the continuing threat to himself and the general public, two shots were fired by Lieutenant Tiller in quick succession,” Mussetto said.
According to Mussetto, had Tiller not acted, he would have “easily been run over” by Hammond. The statement also said that a white powdery substance “consistent with cocaine” was found on Hammond’s person by the coroner.
In a statement, an attorney for Hammond’s family said they are satisfied with the “long overdue” release of Tiller’s name. But they disagree with the “justifications for the shooting” provided by the police department and Tiller’s attorney. Hammond, they said, was “unarmed” at the time of the shooting.
“The physical evidence of where the two bullets entered Zachary’s body truly are the best evidence as to what happened that night,” the attorney Eric Bland said. “Zachary isn’t here to tell his version of the shooting.”
“The family looks forward to SLED completing the investigation quickly and that the decision on whether Lt. Tiller will have to answer to the justice system will be determined,” he added.
Police also released a report written by a different officer, Bobby McClure, who arrived after the shooting had occurred.
The report, which describes the incident as an “attempted murder,” provides no detail about what precipitated the shooting or why Tiller believed he was being threatened. The report does not mention the recovery of cocaine on Hammond’s body.
Seneca Police Chief John Covington has said in the past that according to Tiller, Hammond drove the vehicle toward him.
“The driver accelerated and came toward the officer,” Covington 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.”
In a statement on Friday, Covington said that Tiller has no disciplinary actions on his personnel file and that his department would not comment further on the incident, which is currently being investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
The Hammond family attorney also added his statement today that he has “credible evidence about Lt. Tiller’s background that appears to contradict what Covington has stated about Lt. Tiller’s history.”
Hammond’s family also commissioned an independent autopsy which found that he was shot from the back.
According to SLED, dashboard camera video of the incident does exist and may be released when the state investigation has been completed.