Teen motorist’s killing by officer raises questions

The father of a teenager killed Sunday by a Seneca police officer told reporters Monday that his son was shot through an open side window of his Honda, raising fresh questions about the case and other officer-involved shootings in which officers shot people in cars.

Paul Hammond, father of Zachary Hammond, 19, told The Greenville News on Monday that two bullets fired by the officer went through the window and struck his son’s side and shoulder, killing him.

“I’m sure he was trying to flee the scene, but I think he was shot for fleeing the scene,” he told the paper. “I don’t think you use excessive force for somebody in a Honda Civic that they thought had pot.”

Seneca Police Chief John Covington confirmed that the shots were fired into the side of the vehicle.

“It is rather difficult to articulate,” he told The Post and Courier, “but the officer was more to the driver’s side of the car than the front with the wheels turned sharply and accelerating towards him.” The incident happened in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant Sunday night as officers were participating in an undercover sting. Both the officer and Hammond were white.

Covington said a memory card from the dashboard camera in the officer’s car was given to agents with the State Law Enforcement Division immediately after the shooting. It’s unclear whether the shooting was captured on the video.

The Post and Courier is seeking the video from SLED under the state’s open records act.

In its “Shots Fired” investigative report earlier this year, The Post and Courier found that one in four police shootings in South Carolina involve cops firing at or into vehicles. Officers typically justified their actions by saying the vehicles were heading toward them, causing them to fear for their lives and pull their guns. But the newspaper found that in case after case officers fired into the sides of vehicles as they were speeding away.

The shooting in Seneca was the 28th officer-involved shooting this year in South Carolina and comes amid heightened scrutiny of police tactics in the wake of the Walter Scott shooting in North Charleston earlier this year and the Sandra Bland case in Texas earlier this month.

On Wednesday, a University of Cincinnati officer was indicted on murder charges after he stopped a man because his car was missing a front license plate. Body-camera footage shows that as the driver tried to pull away, the officer fired his gun through the side window, killing the driver, Samuel DuBose.

Some departments have all but banned the practice of shooting at people in cars, including the city of Charleston, in part because of the risk of hitting bystanders and turning cars into unguided missiles.

It’s a tactic that has been called into question by the Justice Department, and most recently, triggered protests in Cleveland after an officer was found not guilty of shooting two unarmed occupants after a chase.

Hammond’s obituary said he was a 2014 graduate of Seneca High School and loved history and riding dirt bikes. He had no criminal record.