The Death of Zachary Hammond

Teen Killed Over Small Amount of Marijuana

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Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "The Death of Zachary Hammond." ThoughtCo, Mar. 31, 2016, Montaldo, Charles. (2016, March 31). The Death of Zachary Hammond. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "The Death of Zachary Hammond." ThoughtCo. (accessed October 24, 2017).
Zach Hammond
Zachary Hammond. Family Photo

On July 26, 2015, Zachary Hammond, 19, was on a date with Tori Morton, 24, in the parking lot at Hardee's fast-food restaurant in Seneca, South Carolina when he was shot and killed by a police officer who was trying to arrest Morton on a drug charge.

Official police reports said the officer, Lt. Mark Tiller, shot Hammond in self-defense after Hammond failed to show his hands as ordered, backed his vehicle up and then drove toward the officer.

But, his family says an autopsy shows Hammond was shot in the back.

Here are the latest developments in the Zachary Hammond case:

Hammond Family Settles for $2.15m in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Mar. 30, 2016 - Calling the settlement bittersweet, the mother of Zachary Hammond said at a press conference that the past eight months had been the, "hardest and most trying times" in their lives. “It will not bring Zach back, but it will bring change,” she said.​

Hammond Family Claims Cover Up

Nov. 25, 2015 - Attorneys for the family of an unarmed South Carolina teen who was shot by a police officer during a drug sting in a fast-food restaurant parking lot have accused city officials of attempting to cover up the fact they hired a "rogue cop."

The accusation came in motions filed in federal court over the city of Seneca's attempt to block the release of communications between city officials and the public relations firm hired to handle inquiries about the July 26 shooting of Zachary Hammond by police Lt Mark Tiller in a Hardee's parking lot.

The family, in its lawsuit against the Seneca Police Department, Police Chief John Covington and Lt Tiller, has subpoenaed any records held by Complete Public Relations (CPR), the firm hired by the city of Seneca to handle media questions about the Hammond case while it was being investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Attorneys for police department filed a motion to quash the subpoena, claiming that any communications between the city and the PR firm is protected by attorney-client privilege, because the city attorney supervised and assisted the firm's efforts.

The motion cites an unpublished Nevada case in which the court protected communications between counsel and a public relations consultant in a high-profile case.

In response to the motion to quash the subpoena, attorneys for the Hammonds filed a scathing 14-page response accusing the police department of a cover up and accuses their attorneys of misinterpreting the case they cited to support their position.

"As a threshold matter, the case defendants rely upon for the curious privilege they now assert states that 'privilege does not apply if the client, rather than the attorney, directly hires the public relations firm,'" Bland Richter, attorney for the Hammonds, wrote in the response.

"In light of this clear ruling, the defendants are forced into a tortured interpretation of their own legal authority in an attempt to skirt around the single hard and fast rule issued from their own case. Who hired CPR? Unfortunately for the defendants, their 'facts' on who hired CPR does not pass the smell test," Richter said.

In his response, Richter points out that the video of the shooting incident contradicts the police department's official version of events.

To support his claim of a cover up, Richter also points to the police chief releasing the personnel file of Lt Tiller which failed to include a list of the officer's violations.

The personnel file released by Chief Covington did not include reports of Tiller responding to a call at a high-rate of speed with a ride-along passenger and driving his patrol car into a building.

Nor does it include an incident when Tiller lost his service assault weapon, which was later found and returned by a citizen. The file does not include Tiller once reporting that his police dog was missing overnight.

Richter said the file also did not include Tiller having an extramarital affair with a police department employee.

The attorney said all of these items never made it into Tller's personnel file or were deliberately omitted.

"The defendants hired CPR to assist in the cover-up of their gross negligence in hiring and retaining this rogue police officer, Lt Tiller," Richter wrote. "Plaintiffs believe that this is what Attorney Smith's communications will show and why Attorney Smith is desperately seeking to shield them from the sunlight."

Lawmakers Want Hammond Case Reopened

Nov. 13, 2015 - Two state legislators have requested that the South Carolina Attorney General's office reopen the investigation into the police shooting of an unarmed teen during a drug sting operation July 26.

Sen. Tom Davis is the latest lawmaker to call on Attorney General Alan Wilson to take a closer look at the shooting of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond in the parking lot of a Hardee's Restaurant in Seneca by police Lt Mark Tiller.

Davis cited the dashcam video as reason to reopen the case, which was closed after 10th Judicial Circuit solicitor Chrissy Adams announced that no charges would be filled against Tiller.

"I don't know how anyone watching that video can conclude that the individual in the car was trying to hit the officer or that the officer couldn't get out of the way," Davis said.

Davis said the video clearly showed that Tiller was never in harm's way.

Previously, South Carolina House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford called on Wilson to review the case and promised to introduce legislation to take police shooting cases out of the hands of local prosecutors, who have to work closely with the police in prosecuting cases.

Rutherford also said new legislation may be needed to prevent authorities from withholding videos of police shootings from the public and the media. The Hammond video was kept under raps by S.C. Law Enforcement Division for three months.

Sen. Davis is a republican and Rep. Rutherford is a democrat.

Federal authorities are still investigating the shooting, but Davis said the Attorney General needed to reopen that case so that South Carolina "to take care of its own business."

No State Charges for Tiller

Oct. 27, 2015 - A South Carolina prosecutor has decided not to file any state charges against a Seneca police officer who shot an unarmed 19-year-old during a drug sting July 26. Lt Mark Tiller will not be charged for the shooting of Zachary Hammond, Tenth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams said.

"After careful consideration of the facts of the case, a thorough review of the state investigation, and an extensive review of all applicable law, I have determined that no criminal charges should be filed against Lt Mark Tiller at the state level," Adams said in a statement.

In an Oct. 26 letter to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Adams wrote: "The evidence from this investigation corroborates and supports Lt Tiller's belief that he was going to be run over. Therefore, the only conclusion that can be rendered is that deadly force was justified."

Adams met with Hammond's parents and their attorney shortly before releasing her statement to the media.

"I'm very disappointed," said Zachary's mother, Angie Hammond, in a barely audible voice after that meeting. "I'm just very, very disappointed."

Zachary's father called the incident at the fast-food restaurant July 26, "sorry police work."

Shortly after Adams' public statement, SLED released it case files to the media, including the dashcam video of Tiller's shooting of Hammond.

Watch the Hammond Shooting Video

A federal investigation into the shooting continues.

Zachary's Family Files Federal Lawsuit

Sept. 29, 2015 - With the dash cam video of their son's shooting still not released by state authorities, the family of a teen who was shot by a police officer in a South Carolina fast-food restaurant parking lot has filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Attorneys for the parents of Zachary Hammond said they plan to use the discovery process of the federal civil court to force officials to release the video and other evidence in the July 26 shooting.

The lawsuit targets the Seneca Police Department, Chief John Covington and Lt. Mark Tiller, the officer who shot Hammond to death in the Hardee's parking lot.

"The lawsuit will help get answers for the Hammonds and help them to begin the healing process," said attorney Eric Bland in a statement. "By filing the legal action, they will be able to use the discovery process to obtain relevant information and the reports, recommendations and opinions of SLED in its written reports."

Bland said the federal legal action will also allow the family to subpoena Chief Covington, Lt. Tiller and others who were present at the time of the shooting.

Prosecutor Refuses to Release Hammond Investigation File

Sept. 14, 2015 - A South Carolina prosecutor, who the family of a police shooting victim has tried to have removed from the case, has received the investigative file from state police but has refused to release any information. Solicitor Chrissy Adams said the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigation report into the shooting of Zachary Hammond will not be released "at this time."

Hammond's family has asked the state Supreme Court to remove Adams from the case and replace her with a prosecutor from the attorney general's office, citing a conflict of interest due to her working relationship with local police.

SLED, the state's law enforcement agency, took over the investigation of the police-involved shooting on July 26, 2015, the night Hammond was killed in the parking lot of a Hardee's restaurant in Seneca.

The long-awaited SLED report, which could contain dashboard camera and other video evidence of the incident, was turned over to Adams' office, but she refused to release any details and told reporters it would be "several more weeks" before she decides whether to pursue any charges against Lt. Mark Tiller, the officer who shot Hammond.

"My office has received the initial investigative file from SLED, however there are some follow-up matters that have yet to be completed," Adams said in a statement. "Their final report will provide our office a clearer picture of what transpired in Seneca on the evening of July 26, 2015. In addition, federal authorities are bringing substantial resources and technology, not available to state investigators, to this case to ensure that every single piece of evidence is gathered and thoroughly examined."

"Unfortunately, while I recognize that this is a very difficult time for the entire community, this process will take several more weeks," Adams said.

Adams said she will not make a decision or release any details of the investigation until both state and federal investigations are complete and the Supreme Court rules on the Hammond family's request to have her replaced.

Zachary's Date Gives Her Account of Shooting

Sept. 4, 2015 - The woman who was a passenger in the car when a South Carolina teen was shot to death by a police officer in a fast-food restaurant parking lot has given a written account of the incident.

Tori Diana Morton, 24, who was arrested after the shooting for simple possession of marijuana, provided a written statement on Aug. 11 of her recollection of events in the parking lot of the Hardee's Restaurant in Seneca, South Carolina.

The statement was included as an affidavit in the motion that attorneys for the Hammond family filed with the state Supreme Court asking that the attorney general's office take over prosecution of the case.

The following is Morton's complete statement. Some typos have been corrected for clarity's sake:

"Pulling into Hardee's parking lot, Zach and I were sharing a chocolate dipped ice cream cone from McDonald's and as we were pulling into a parking spot. The police SUV was lighted up in blue flashing lights."

"The two officers got out and had they're (sic) gun drawn, yelling that he would blow our (expletive) heads off and immediately started firing. As the shots rang the car moved and rolled forward and along the curb until another cop car crashed into the back of Zach's car to stop us."

"As they surrounded the car they started yelling, "Where's the gun? Get the gun" Zach was already dead and then they drug (sic) us out of the car and onto the ground and the officer that stood me up -- he put the car in park."

"When we pulled into the parking spot not fully in the spot and the car still in drive the police exited they're (sic) SUV and came and aimed weapons towards each of our windows and were in arms length aimed at Zach and shouting 'We're going to blow your (expletive) heads off."

"As the car stopped and Zach saw the lights in the mirror and I looked up to notice the cops as well he turned toward me to look at me when the first shot was fired then he lost motor control causing the car to roll toward the curb rolling left and forward only stopping by the cop car smashing into the left back side of Zach's car."

"It happened within seconds with no warning."

"The car was never in park pulling into the Hardee's parking spot. That's why the officer put it in park after the handcuffs were put on me,

"I watched them take the gun from the officer that killed Zach and move it from car to car as they were in and out of the trunks of each car present. I was unhandcuffed given a cigarette and placed in the alley behind the Hardee's alone for a long time and remained on the scene for hours. Taken away and brought back multiple times before my arrest.

Hammond Family Wants Prosecutor Removed

Sept 2, 2015 - The parents of a 19-year-old man shot by police during an undercover drug bust in a fast-food restaurant parking lot has asked that the local prosecuting attorney be removed from the case. Zachary Hammond's parents asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to remove solicitor Chrissy Adams from the case because of a conflict of interest.

In papers filed with the state's highest court, attorneys for the Hammonds said the conflict arises from the solicitor prosecuting a police-related shooting case involving officers that she works with every day to prosecute cases.

"This inherently symbiotic relationship becomes an inherently conflicted relationship when a solicitor is forced to investigate a potential crime committed by one of the very officers with whom they work," the attorneys wrote.

In the filing, the family accused Adams of not being objective and has "pre-judged this matter." The papers point to statements made by Adams that Hammonds' juvenile record, which she has repeatedly asked the judge to unseal, "proves his specific intent to run the officer over."

Seneca Police Lt. Mark Tiller claimed in his official report that he was defending himself when he shot Hammond because the teen was trying to run over him with his vehicle.

The family disputes that claim because an independent autopsy showed Hammond was shot in the back, so he could not have been threatened at the time he pulled the trigger.

Also, the 23-year-old woman who was in the car with Hammond at the time has given a statement in which she said Tiller "that he would blow our [expletive] heads off and immediately started firing."

The Hammond family is asking the court to direct the state Attorney General to appoint an independent solicitor in the case.

Feds to Investigate Teen's Shooting

Aug. 15, 2015 - The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has denied a newspaper's request to release the dashboard camera video of the police shooting of a teen in a fast-food restaurant parking lot, while the U.S. Justice Department has launched its own investigation into the death of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond.

The Seneca Journal requested a copy of the dash cam video of Lt. Mark Tiller, who shot Hammond to death on Sunday, July 26, under the state's Freedom of Information Act. The request was turned down "at this time" by the agency.

SLED spokesperson Thom Berry said the video is part of "an active and ongoing investigation pursuant to which no arrests have been made."

"As such, the records you seek are sensitive law enforcement records not otherwise available by state and federal law that were compiled in the process of detecting and investigating crime the premature disclosure of which would absolutely harm SLED and its prospective law enforcement action in this matter; including SLED's ongoing and active investigation, any forthcoming prosecution that may be determined warranted by the appropriate prosecutor, and the constitutional guarantees associated therewith," Berry wrote in a letter to the newspaper.

An attorney for the Hammonds said the family was disappointed that the video has not been released. The camera's memory card was turned over to SLED investigators at the scene of the shooting.

"The dash cam video is what it is," attorney Eric Bland said. "It's going to show what it shows. It may answer some questions. It may beget some questions. But it's not going to change. Nobody can modify it. Nobody can delete it. Nobody can add to it."

Meanwhile, Bill Nettles, U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, said the Department of Justice has begun a civil rights investigation into Hammond's death.

Nettles said the federal investigation will run parallel to the SLED investigation.

Deadly Force Not Necessary, Attorney Says

Aug. 10, 2015 - The attorney for the family of a 19-year-old South Carolina man who was shot to death in a fast-food restaurant parking lot during a drug bust that uncovered a small amount of marijuana said the police officer's claim that he shot the teen in self-defense is bogus and a statement from the officer's own attorney proves it.

"He was a 19-year-old, 121-pound kid killed basically for a joint," attorney John Bland said. "This is about the use of overreaching deadly force in situations where it is not required."

On July 26, Zachary Hammond was shot and killed in his vehicle in the back parking lot of a Hardee's restaurant in Seneca, South Carolina by a veteran police officer who was assisting with a drug bust, according to Police Chief John Covington.

Lt. Mark Tiller, who works with the department's K-9 unit arrived at the scene to assist with the arrest of 24-year-old Tori Morton, who was supposed to make a drug sale to an undercover narcotics agent in the parking lot behind the restaurant, which was open for business and serving customers.

Morton was a passenger in Hammond's 2001 Honda Civic.

Stopped the Continuing Threat?

According to John Mussetto, the attorney for Lt. Tiller, the following took place when Tiller arrived at the scene:

""Upon arrival with blue lights activated, (Tiller) ordered Mr. Hammond to show (Tiller) his hands, which were being concealed," Mussetto said in his statement. "Rather than abide by this order, Mr. Hammond rapidly reversed his vehicle toward (Tiller's) patrol vehicle."

"Mr. Hammond then rapidly accelerated in the direction of (Tiller), forcing the lieutenant to push off of Mr. Hammond's car to keep from being struck and run over," Mussetto said.

"In order to stop the continuing threat to himself and the general public, two shots were fired by (Tiller) in quick succession," Mussetto continued. "If not for (Tiller's) quick reflexes and his ability to push off the car, (Tiller) would have easily been run over by Mr. Hammond."

"Since this incident, (Tiller) has cooperated with SLED agents and the 10th Circuit Solicitor's Office," the statement concluded.

What Was the Threat?

Immediately after Mussetto's statement was released, Bland released another statement to the media that said Mussetto's account of the incident proves that deadly force was not necessary.

"What was the threat to Lt. Tiller if he had the alacrity to jump out of the way and Zachary's car had passed him so that by the time he aimed his gun at Zachary, and shot, he was behind him on the side of the vehicle?" Bland's statement asked.

Bland pointed out that if Tiller pushed off the vehicle, he could not have been in position to fire his .45 caliber firearm.

"That means that his gun, which he had unholstered and pointed at Zachary, was not in a position to shoot when he was using his 'quick reflexes' to get out of the way," Bland said. "Lt. Tiller would have had to reposition himself and then take deadly aim as the car passed so that both shots hit the target through a window as the car was moving. By their own words, Lt. Tiller had the time not to shoot his gun."

Earlier, Bland pointed out to reporters that Hammond's car was blocked in, front and back, by police vehicles and there was no way he could have gotten away. Therefore there was no danger to the public.

Independent Autopsy Disputes Official Version

Shortly after the incident, Seneca police released a report that indicated that Lt. Tiller shot Hammond in the "chest and shoulder" in an act of self-defense. But, an independent autopsy paid for by Hammond's parents, Angie and Paul Hammond, produced different results.

The second autopsy, conducted by two pathologists, show that the entry wounds were "left to right, downward, and back to front." The autopsy said the car was not moving when the shots were fired.

"The physical evidence of where the two bullets entered Zachary's body truly are the best evidence as to what happened that night," Bland said. "Zachary isn't here to tell his version of the shooting. The family looks forward to SLED completing the investigation quickly, and the decision on whether Lt. Tiller will have to answer to the justice system will be determined."

SLED, the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Department, is investigating the shooting, which is always the case when an officer-involved shooting occurs.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "The Death of Zachary Hammond." ThoughtCo, Mar. 31, 2016, Montaldo, Charles. (2016, March 31). The Death of Zachary Hammond. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "The Death of Zachary Hammond." ThoughtCo. (accessed October 24, 2017).