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Drug Sting Gone Bad: Family of teen killed by officer wants evidence released now


Police Shot This Unarmed 19-Year-Old Dead.

Image credit: Facebook/Justice for Zachary Hammond
Image credit: Facebook/Justice for Zachary Hammond

Despite media and family requests, South Carolina is keeping under wraps the police dashcam videos that show the killing of a 19-year-old unarmed man last month. The video could also determine the truth of a claim by the family that police officers desecrated the victim’s body.

The parents of a 19-year-old man who was killed by police during a drug sting against a passenger in his car are demanding that a South Carolina prosecutor release dashcam video and the state agents' investigative file.

"My son was murdered and someone needs to tell me why," Angie Hammond said at a news conference Tuesday, one day after Solicitor Chrissy Adams released a statement saying she has the investigative file, but it could take weeks for her to decide whether the officer should be charged.

The prosecutor for Anderson and Oconee counties said she still has follow-up questions for State Law Enforcement Division agents after reading their report and is also awaiting evidence from the FBI, which is doing its own investigation into the July 26 shooting of Zachary Hammond at a Seneca fast food parking lot.

Related article: Beat police and DEA drug stings

The importance of the video is made clear in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey.

“… the officer who opened Zachary’s door and pulled his dead body from the vehicle then went ‘to the trunk of his police car and pulled (SIC) something out,” the letter quoted a witness to the shooting as saying. “The officer walked back over to the man on the ground rolled him over to his side, put something underneath his body, and then rolled him back.’”

The letter further states: “…a police officer with a neighboring police force has confirmed to SLED that the Seneca Police Department celebrated the killing of Zachary by desecrating his corpse. After Zachary had been shot and killed, member(s) of the Seneca Police Department lifted his dead hand and ‘high fived’ Zachary Hammond.”

Seneca Lt. Mark Tiller said he shot Hammond because the teen drove off and nearly hit him as undercover agents tried to buy marijuana from a girl he took on a date. A lawyer for Hammond's family said the autopsy shows Hammond was shot in the back, after any threat from him running down the officer was over.

Adams said she expects to give a clearer picture of what happened in the drug sting when she makes her decision.

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

Hammond's father said Adams' decision to not release the state report and the dashcam video until she reaches a decision makes it look like she has made up her mind and has something to hide.

Related article: (What's wrong with) Gun Stings 
"The SLED report will not change. Release it now. Allow our family closure and peace," Paul Hammond said.

The Hammonds also called for Gov. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson to put pressure on Adams to release the evidence and to remove herself from the case. They already asked the state Supreme Court to rule that prosecutors in South Carolina should no longer be allowed to decide whether criminal charges should be filed against police officers who work in their court jurisdictions.

Wilson's office is fighting that challenge, saying Tuesday in court papers that only lawmakers could make such a rule. Office spokesman Mark Powell said they could not comment further because of the ongoing investigation.

Haley's schedule indicated she called Adams on Aug. 18, after the Hammond case began getting national attention, but didn't give a reason for the call.
Haley press secretary Chaney Adams said, the governor has urged Adams and SLED "to ensure the investigation is completed in the most transparent and timely way possible."

SLED only releases files when a case is closed, and its investigation of Hammond's case is still open.

First Amendment advocates have said SLED and prosecutors violate the state's Freedom of Information Act when they don't release evidence in a timely fashion. The Aiken Standard newspaper and the Associated Press have sued SLED over its refusal to release dashcam video in the case of a North Augusta officer awaiting trial on a charge of firing into a vehicle after a police chase, resulting in the death of a driver.

Paul Hammond said the family hopes their public anger forces police agencies to follow the law. He said they were most upset because Adams and other authorities promised they could review the evidence of their son's death, but keep denying them access.

"We felt like we played by all the rules," Paul Hammond said.

Hammond was shot twice inside his vehicle at a Hardee’s parking lot. His family-arranged autopsy showed he was shot in the back. The officer who fired the bullets has maintained he was acting in self-defense and said Hammond was accelerating toward him. Police have said a small amount of marijuana was found on a woman with whom Hammond was on a date at the time of the shooting.

"She just keeps changing them," Angie Hammond added.

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