House Democratic leader wants broader definition of excessive force

A dash cam video released last week shows Seneca Police Lt. Mark Tiller holding a gun on 19-year-old drug suspect Zachary Hammond before firing into the vehicle as Hammond tried to drive away, killing him.

South Carolina’s top House Democrat wants to make it easier for prosecutors to go after cops they believe are guilty of using excessive force.

A day after calling on the state attorney general to look at prosecuting a Seneca police lieutenant for killing a drug suspect as he tried to drive away, Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said he believes there needs to be a broad range of acts that are considered excessive force.

Last week, 10th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams said she would not charge Seneca police Lt. Mark Tiller in the July 26 shooting death of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond during a drug sting.

“How do you make it so that the citizenry can expect to be treated with respect and not have their constitutional rights violated, while also respecting the rights of law enforcement officers and make sure they come home every night?” Rutherford said.

Rutherford has called on state Attorney General Alan Wilson to look at the Hammond case and possibly prosecute Tiller for murder. Mark Powell, spokesman for the attorney general, said Wilson is out of the state on military duty with the S.C. National Guard.

Rutherford said he plans to discuss specifics, which could include prohibiting officers from firing into moving vehicles, with local prosecutors.

In a dash-cam video released last week, Tiller is seen running up to Hammond’s car, gun drawn, yelling, “Hands up.” The car backs out of the space, and starts pulling away before Tiller fires into the vehicle.

Tiller has said through his lawyer that he thought Hammond was trying to run him over and fired twice in self-defense.

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“No one else has the ability to run beside a car, get in front of the car, shoot into the car and then say that they felt their life was being threatened,” Rutherford said.

Shooting into moving vehicles is increasingly coming under fire as experts say it’s unnecessarily dangerous and more police departments ban it. Some police departments, such as Charleston’s, have banned the practice unless someone inside the car is shooting at police or others.

The danger of such shootings was highlighted earlier this year in “Shots Fired,” a Post and Courier investigation revealing that a quarter of the more than 200 instances of police firing their guns in South Carolina since 2009 involved officers shooting into moving vehicles.

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at (843) 509-8933.

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