A local South Carolina police lieutenant will not be charged in state for fatally shooting a suspected drug dealer in late July officials announced Tuesday, but federal charges may still be pressed if the US Justice Department deems necessary.
The teenage victim, Zachary Hammond, was wanted for evading arrest and skipping court on a prior drug-related warrant and local police in Seneca, S.C., had been tracking him since he fled a checkpoint in June, just one of many instances of Mr. Hammond running through police checkpoints.
Video evidence of the scene in a Hardee’s parking lot on July 26 shows Lt. Mark Tiller arriving in a police cruiser behind Hammond’s silver sedan. Lieutenant Tiller told Hammond to put his hands up before grabbing the vehicle fender and firing a shot through the open window as Hammond tried to drive away.
Autopsy reports show Hammond was shot twice, once in the left shoulder and once fatally through the chest. The woman inside the car with Hammond at the time was uninjured but charged with possession of marijuana.
Investigation of the vehicle following the shooting was consistent with law enforcement’s suspicions, as cocaine and marijuana were found on Hammond’s person and near his seat.
In addition to the dashcam video recording of the scene, police also collected 842 pages of text messages from Hammond’s phone, most of which revealed drug sales and some of which indicated Hammond’s “aggressive attitude towards police” and confirmed Hammond’s disregard for law enforcement authority.
While Hammond’s attorney argued Hammond was not given sufficient time to put his hands up, the investigation "shows Lt. Tiller was acting in self-defense,” Seneca city administrator Greg Dietterick said in a statement Tuesday.
State officials maintain that Tiller did not break any state laws, but did agree Tiller’s actions were “concerning.”
According to a letter written by solicitor Chrissy Adams, evidence "corroborates and supports Lt. Tiller's belief that he was going to be run over," reported the Associated Press.
Ms. Adams also suggested that "Hammond had been on a dangerous and destructive course for a significant period of his life."
This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.