New Details About the Killing of Zachary Hammond

August 7th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

Zachary Hammond, a 19-year-old from South Carolina, was shot and killed by Seneca police officer Mark Tiller on July 26 after Hammond allegedly drove a friend, 23-year-old Tori Morton, to a parking lot where police had arranged to purchase drugs from her. The apparent sting operation took a tragic turn when the officer exited his unmarked vehicle, weapon drawn, and shot Hammond twice.

Officials say that dashcam footage of the shooting will be released, but Thom Berry, a spokesman for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, did not say when. 

FOX Carolina 21

Sheriff Police Chief John Covington originally said that the name of the officer involved in the incident would not be released because he considers Tiller a victim of attempted murder. Few other details are known about the narcotics operation that led to the incident; however, Hammond's parents believe that their son was inadvertently caught in the middle of a marijuana drug bust targeted at Morton, who was arrested for marijuana possession that night.

Whether or not that is true is yet to be determined. But one development that has caught the public's attention concerns the results of an independent autopsy that Hammond's family requested shortly after the official report was released. The new report shows that the man was shot in the back left shoulder and the left side of his chest—a distinction, as the New York Times describes it, that "dashed the impression that the officer was going to be hit by the car."

JUST IN: I just received the 2nd autopsy report on Zachary Hammond who was shot and killed by a #Seneca police officer....

Posted by Cody Alcorn on Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Morton was entrapped in the drive-thru lane of a local fast food restaurant, local Fox affiliate WHNS reported. After Hammond was shot, the officer executed a search warrant and found a bag of marijuana. 

Seneca police chief John Covington said that the officer discharged his weapon in self-defense—that Hammond accelerated his car toward the officer in an effort to hit him. But a lawyer representing Hammond's family, Eric Bland, contends that the autopsy report, which was released on Tuesday, contradicts the officer's account of the July 26 shooting. He claims that the report shows the teen had been shot twice from the back rather than the front.

"It is physically impossible for him to be trying to flee or run over the officer that shot him," Bland told Greenville Online on Wednesday. "The shots were so close in proximity to each other that it would be physically impossible unless the car was stopped and the officer came up very close to an open window."

According to the autopsy report, the gunshot entry wounds were only five inches apart, WHNS reported.

Covington denied the allegation that Hammond had been shot from behind. He said that the weapon was discharged "from near point-blank range into the open driver’s side window." The officer had been employed by the Seneca police department in South Carolina for at least five years and had prior law enforcement experience, he added.

Still, the officer and city have hired lawyers in anticipation of a lawsuit.

"Ultimately, it would appear it’s headed toward litigation,” Covington said.

In a recent statement, Hammond's parents said that they were grieving over the loss of their son.

"This is a most difficult time and the facts as we have been told and reported are in conflict. We are conducting our own investigation as to the circumstances of this tragic and unnecessary death"

Because few mainstream publications opted to cover the shooting incident in the days following Hammond's death, civil rights advocates have taken to Twitter and Facebook in an effort to raise attention to the police-involved killing. Bland has encouraged the public to treat this shooting as it has with other shootings of unarmed people such as Sam Dubose.

Hammond's death marks the state's 29th police-involved shooting this year, according to the Huffington Post.