COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The police officer who shot and killed a 19-year-old South Carolina man during an undercover drug buy last month had to push off the teen's car to keep from being run over, according to a statement released Friday by the officer's lawyer.
Police Lt. Mark Tiller then shot at the car in a fast food restaurant parking lot in Seneca because he feared he could still be run over or that Zachary Hammond might be a threat to other people, attorney John M. Mussetto said in the statement.
But a lawyer for the teen's family said the physical evidence from the shooting disputes Tiller's story and he is gathering information about the officer's background that disagrees with his boss' statement he was a good officer.
Seneca police released Tiller's name Friday, 12 days after the shooting. Authorities said the 32-year-old officer has been in law enforcement for 10 years and with the Seneca force since 2010. A statement released just before 5 p.m. said Tiller's personnel records are available to be looked at during normal business hours.
Hammond's family has vehemently disagreed with the police account of the case. Family lawyer Eric Bland has said autopsy results and photos show Hammond was shot twice through the driver's side window and the bullets entered his back, indicating the officer was not threatened with being run over when he fired.
"The physical evidence of where the two bullets entered Zachary's body truly are the best evidence as to what happened that night. Zachary isn't here to tell his version of the shooting," Bland said in his own statement released Friday.
The shooting happened around 8 p.m. July 26. Hammond's family said he was taking a woman on a first date for ice cream.
An undercover officer arranged to buy drugs from the woman in the fast food restaurant parking lot, authorities said.
Tiller had his blue lights on when he got out of his cruiser and walked toward Hammond's car. The teen refused an order to show his hands, then rapidly backed toward Tiller's vehicle before accelerating forward toward the officer, Mussetto said.
"If not for Lieutenant Tiller's quick reflexes and his ability to push off of the car, Lieutenant Tiller would have easily been run over by Mr. Hammond," Mussetto wrote in his statement.
The coroner found white powder on Hammond during his autopsy. The powder has been sent to State Law Enforcement Division investigators, Mussetto said.
SLED is investigating the shootings and has released little information. A Seneca police report indicated a data card was turned over to state investigators, but whether that card has dashboard camera footage or other data has not been made public.
SLED will send its findings to the local prosecutor. Hammond's family wants a state grand jury to investigate instead to assure there is no conflict of interest, Bland said.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP