Seneca cop shoots teen in car, SLED investigating

State Law Enforcement Division agents are investigating an officer-involved shooting Sunday in which a Seneca police officer shot and killed a teenager in a car, the 28th police shooting so far this year in South Carolina.

The Seneca shooting happened during an undercover drug investigation by Seneca police in a fast-food restaurant parking lot, Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis said.

The officer shot Zachary Hammond, 19, of Seneca, at about 8:30 p.m. Addis said the officer said he felt threatened by “teen’s operation of the vehicle,” and he fired twice with both shots hitting the suspect in the chest. The teen accelerated his car toward the officer. Other details of the shooting will be released by SLED and Seneca police, he said.

The officer, whose name was not released, has been put on administrative leave while SLED investigates, Seneca Police Chief John Covington said.

In a news release, SLED said it would defer to the Seneca Police Department about any further information about the incident. The Post and Courier has asked for copies of any dashboard camera videos in connection with the shooting under the state’s open records law.

The Post and Courier’s “Shots Fired” investigation earlier this year uncovered a pattern of officers shooting at and into vehicles.

Police fired into cars in about a quarter of the roughly 250 officer-involved shootings since 2009, a practice that many departments across the country have all but banned, including the city of Charleston. The New York City Police Department prohibited officers from shooting at moving vehicles in 1972, one of several moves that dramatically reduced shootings there.

In case after case, officers told SLED that they fired because they were afraid of being injured or killed by these cars and trucks. But dashboard camera videos and other evidence showed that some officers were out of harm’s way when they opened fire, the newspaper found. And SLED case files show little or no documentation that the officers’ accounts were challenged over these inconsistencies.

The newspaper also found that almost any shooting by police in South Carolina, whether blindly into cars or at fleeing suspects, can be ruled justified if officers say they felt their lives were in danger, a vague standard that opens the door to abuse.

The Seneca shooting followed another one Friday morning in Horry County in which police confronted Brian Stortzum, 32. Horry County police confronted a gunman after family members ran out of an apartment.

In 2014, there were 42 officer-involved shootings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.