SENECA, South Carolina — The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into a fatal officer-involved shooting of a 19-year-old man in South Carolina.
The department’s civil rights division, the FBI office in Columbia, South Carolina, and the U.S. attorney for the state have launched the probe into the shooting of Zachary Hammond, Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson announced Wednesday, August 12th.
Hammond was shot by a police officer on July 26th while in the parking lot of a Hardee’s fast-food restaurant in Seneca, according to Eric Bland, one of the attorneys representing the late teen’s family. Seneca is a community of about 8,000 people 35 miles southwest of Greenville.
“The investigation will run parallel to the state’s investigation,” said Iverson, referring to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which also is looking into the case.
The announcement comes a day after lawyers for Hammond’s family requested just such an inquiry due to what they called “the substantial violations of (the late teenager’s) civil rights” and the need for a “transparent and independent investigation of the Seneca Police Department.”
Seneca Police Chief John Covington told CNN affiliate WHNS that Lt. Mark Tiller, a uniformed officer conducting a drug investigation, stepped out of a marked vehicle with a gun drawn and walked toward Hammond’s car.
The officer opened fire — in self-defense, police say — after the unarmed teen accelerated and drove toward the officer.
“If not for Lt. Tiller’s quick reflexes and his ability to push off the car, Lt. Tiller would have easily been run over by Mr. Hammond,” Tiller’s attorney, John Mussetto, said in a statement.
Authorities found a small amount of marijuana in the front passenger compartment in Hammond’s car.
Bland said, “He was a 19-year-old, 121-pound kid killed basically for a joint.”
Hammond’s mother, Angie, said, “Not only are we grieving that our son is gone, we don’t know why it happened or what happened. We’re just trying to find answers.”