Seneca police mum about officer who shot teen

Zachary Hammond was killed in an officer-involved shooting in Seneca on Sunday.

Seneca police won’t release the name of the officer who shot and killed Zachary Hammond, 19, on Sunday night, angering lawyers for Hammond’s grieving family who said the refusal is a double standard and that “the more sunlight on this matter the better the public will be served.”

Eric Bland, a Columbia attorney representing the family, said in an email that it was “amazing to us all that Zachary’s name was immediately released to the public and his name has been republished over and over, and yet the very man that shot him two times and killed him gets to maintain his privacy. It seems that (the officer) is being treated like the victim instead of Zachary.”

In a statement Friday, Seneca Police Chief John Covington said “our hearts and prayers go out to the Hammond family during this extremely difficult time,” but that the department will not release the officer’s name. Doing so, he wrote, would subject the officer and his family to harassment, intimidation or abuse. The department considers the officer a “victim of attempted murder as we have previously stated several times.”

Hammond was shot in his car Sunday night while on a date with a Pickens woman. Officers converged on his car as part of a drug investigation. Seneca police have said that the officer fired two shots after the teen drove toward him. Attorneys for Hammond’s family dispute the account, saying the bullets struck Hammond in the left rear deltoid and underneath his left armpit.

Both the officer and Hammond were white. Hammond was not armed. The woman he was with was charged with simple possession of marijuana.

The Seneca shooting comes amid heightened scrutiny over police shootings in South Carolina and nationally. In Cincinnati, the police shooting of Samuel DuBose also raised questions about officers’ accounts. In that case, new body camera footage captured officers talking about how the officer was pulled in and dragged by DuBose, while other footage showed the officer falling backward after he fired a fatal shot.

The Post and Courier’s “Shots Fired” series revealed the officers in South Carolina routinely said they fired because vehicles were moving toward them when other evidence showed vehicles heading away.

Bland said that identifying an officer after a shooting allows the public to report any knowledge they have about an officer’s past actions. The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the incident, the 28th police shooting this year in South Carolina.