COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina Supreme Court rejected a request to remove the prosecutor investigating the police shooting of a 19-year-old man during a drug sting in Seneca made by the teen’s family.
Lawyers for Zachary Hammond’s parents wanted Solicitor Chrissy Adams taken off the case because she works closely with Seneca police and other law enforcement agencies in the two counties that make up her district.
They also asked the justices to end the practice in South Carolina of allowing prosecutors to investigate police officers in their jurisdictions, instead suggesting the state attorney general should decide if officers should face charges in police shootings.
The Supreme Court rejected the request Monday in a two-page order mailed to Hammond’s lawyers, saying the parents aren’t under threat of being prosecuted, so they can’t challenge the prosecutor.
The ruling also said the justices did not want to violate the separation of powers provided by state laws and the constitution. Prosecutors had suggested the only way to change who investigates police shootings would be a law passed by the Legislature.
The attorneys for Hammond’s parents said they were disappointed. But they also have a federal lawsuit pending against the city of Seneca, its police chief and officer Mark Tiller, who fired the fatal shot.
That suit said Tiller cursed at Hammond, threatening to blow his head off before firing, and another officer gave the teen’s lifeless body a high-five not long after he was killed.
There is dashboard camera video of the incident that could verify whether that actually happened, but the State Law Enforcement Division has refused to release it. Three newspapers are suing the agency, demanding the release of the video and other evidence.
The agency refuses, because it said Adams is still reviewing its report. Adams said she will not decide whether Tiller faces charges until state and federal investigators answer additional questions.
Hammond’s parents said their federal lawsuit was filed in part to force the release of the police video.
Tiller said he shot Hammond because the teen drove his car at him ins fast food restaurant parking lot after an officer tried to arrest a woman in the passenger seat on a drug charge.
Hammond’s family said a private autopsy shows Hammond was shot twice in the side and back, showing his car was going away from Tiller and his life was no longer threatened.