The family of a 19-year-old man shot dead by police through the open window of the car where he was sitting asked the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday to investigate the incident.
Zachary Hammond died on July 26 in the small upstate town of Seneca, South Carolina.
“The issues that surround the death of Zachary Hammond are issues of national significance,” family attorneys Eric Bland and Ronald Richter Jr. said in a statement on Tuesday. “While many other recent events have involved white on black police shootings, police brutality and the excessive use of force are race neutral issues.”
Police have said Hammond drove his Honda Civic directly at officers when they asked him to put his hands on the steering wheel during a stop that was part of a drug sting.
Seneca Police Chief John Covington said in a news release on Friday that Lt. Mark Tiller, who fired at Hammond, was “the victim of attempted murder.”
Tiller is a 10-year veteran of law enforcement who has been employed with Seneca police since 2010, Covington said.
A private pathologists’ report found that Hammond was shot twice, once in the left shoulder from behind and once in the left side of his chest.
The chest wound punctured his heart and lungs and killed him, according to the autopsy.
The family disputes the police account of the encounter.
“Clearly this officer was not in any danger at the time he fired the two shots into the car, of being hit by the car,” Bland said in an email. “There was no gun. This officer was not being shot at.”
“One of two things happened,” Bland said. “The officer negligently thought there was a weapon in the car and there was not or he was angry at Zachary for not following his instructions or that Zachary was trying to flee so he shot him.”
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said it is investigating the shooting.
A Seneca prosecutor has not commented on the case.
“The fact that Zachary is white and the police officer is white shouldn’t matter,” Bland said in a phone interview. “This shooting of an unarmed white teen should matter as much as if it were a black unarmed teen.”
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