Family of teen killed by police petitions state's high court

AP News
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Posted: Sep 02, 2015 1:20 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A local prosecutor should be removed from an investigation into the shooting of a South Carolina teen killed by a police officer during an apparent drug bust, the man's family has argued to the state's highest court.

In documents filed Tuesday, the parents of Zachary Hammond say the state Supreme Court should declare that Solicitor Chrissy Adams has a conflict of interest because the 19-year-old was shot by a police officer in her jurisdiction.

Prosecutors rely heavily on local law enforcement officers to investigate cases, the Hammonds' attorneys wrote. And, as such, the same prosecutors should recuse themselves when those law officers themselves need to be investigated.

"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," attorneys for the family wrote.

Hammond's parents also say that Adams has demonstrated a "lack of objectivity and that she has pre-judged this matter" by saying that details from the teen's juvenile records "prove his specific intent to run the officer over" and repeatedly asking a judge to unseal them.

Adams' office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Seneca police Lt. Mark Tiller has said he shot Hammond during the July 26 incident because he felt threatened as the teen drove his car at him. Hammond's family has vehemently disagreed with the police account, saying autopsy results and photos show Hammond was shot twice through the driver's side window and that bullets entered his back, indicating the officer was not threatened with being run over when he fired.

According to a police report, Hammond had driven a 23-year-old woman to the parking lot after an undercover officer arranged to buy marijuana from her. Uninjured, the woman was ultimately charged with simple possession of marijuana.

But in an affidavit, according to the Hammonds' filing, the woman said an officer, with his gun drawn, yelled "that he would blow our ... heads off and immediately started firing."

The State Law Enforcement Division has released little about its investigation and will send findings to the local prosecutor. Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice also said it would investigate the case. The officer involved and the teen are both white.

In addition to replacing Adams, the Hammonds also argue that the court should direct Attorney General Alan Wilson to appoint an independent solicitor to take over the case — something their attorneys argue should be done in all such cases.

"Despite the conflict that seems so apparent in having a solicitor investigate and/or prosecute an officer within her jurisdiction following an officer related shooting, there appears to be no rule or law or policy decision directing that the investigation and prosecution of these matters be handled at the State level through the South Carolina Attorney General's Office," they wrote.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP