South Carolina officer shoots unarmed teen during pot bust

Posted at 4:45 PM, Aug 06, 2015
By Jareen Imam


(CNN) — You think you’ve heard this story before. A young, unarmed man is gunned down by police, black activists are outraged — the only difference with this scenario is that the young man is not black, he’s white.

Nineteen-year-old Zachary Hammond was on a date July 26 when he was fatally shot twice by a police officer while at the back parking lot of a Hardee’s fast food restaurant in Seneca, a city 40 miles from Greenville, near the North Carolina border, according to Eric Bland, the attorney representing the teen’s family.

The Seneca Police Department said the officer was conducting a drug investigation and shot Hammond in self-defense.

“He was a uniformed officer, he was in a marked vehicle, was out of his vehicle on foot approaching the suspect vehicle — weapon drawn given it was a narcotics type violation,” Seneca Police Chief John Covington said to CNN affiliate WHNS.

A small amount of marijuana was found in the front passenger’s compartment in Hammond’s car.

“He was a 19-year-old, 121-pound kid killed basically for a joint,” Bland said.

Tori Morton, who was on the date with Hammond, was arrested on charges of simple possession of marijuana. It was an amount, Bland said, that did not warrant such excessive police force.

“This is about the use of overreaching deadly force in situations where it is not required,” Bland said.

Covington said the officer was attempting to arrest Hammond when the teen accelerated the car and drove toward the officer, prompting the officer to shoot in self-defense.

The Oconee County Coroner’s Office performed an autopsy on Tuesday and confirmed that Hammond was shot twice and had wounds consistent with a .45 caliber handgun that was used by the Seneca Police. Hammond suffered one gunshot wound to the collar bone-shoulder region and one wound to the chest, which was fatal, according to the report. The autopsy ruled that Hammond’s death was a homicide.

The report did not state if Hammond’s gunshot wounds were consistent with his vehicle moving at the time of the shooting.

Bland said Hammond’s wounds indicate the vehicle was not moving, and the teen was shot on the rear of his shoulder and on the side of his chest. The Hammond family commissioned an independent autopsy, which found the teen’s gunshot wounds indicated he was shot from behind and at close range.

Covington told WHNS the officer involved in the shooting, who has worked at the Seneca Police Department for more than five years, is on administrative leave. The police department is not releasing the name of the officer, citing safety concerns.

“We will not be releasing the officer’s name that was involved in the shooting and consider him a victim of attempted murder as we have previously stated several times,” Covington said in a statement Friday.

Hammond’s death has not generated the same national outcry as the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others. Black Lives Matter, an activist community that is working to end what it says is the systematic targeting of black people by police, has been sharing Hammond’s story on social media as another example of police brutality while also asking why Hammond’s death has not prompted outrage by other groups.

Meredith Clark, an assistant professor at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas who is conducting research on the Black Lives Matter movement, told the Los Angeles Times the lack of outrage over Hammond’s death did not appear to be race-related. She said the lack of compelling video or a history of brutality complaints with the police department was more of a reason the story did not reach national levels.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has taken over the investigation and collected the handgun as evidence.

Kathryn Richardson, a spokeswoman for SLED, said the investigation is continuing. Richardson also confirmed there is dashcam video of the incident but would not say when it would be released.

CNN’s Shawn Nottingham, John Newsome and Chris Youd contributed to this report.