Under an agreement announced yesterday, the city of Seneca, South Carolina, will pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of Zachary Hammond, an unarmed 19-year-old who was killed by a Seneca police officer last July. Lt. Mark Tiller claimed Hammond tried to run him over in a Hardee's parking lot, forcing him to fire in self-defense. But that is not what the dashcam video of the deadly encounter seemed to show, which helps explain why the city decided to settle.
Hammond had driven to Hardee's with his date, 23-year-old Tori Morton, who was lured there by an undercover cop posing as a marijuana buyer. Morton was sitting in the front passenger seat of Hammond's Honda Civic as Tiller approached the driver's side with his gun drawn, shouting, "Hands up! Put 'em up! Stop! Stop! Stop! I'm gonna shoot your fucking ass!"
Hammond, who was already backing up as Tiller approached the car, continued on his way, making a sharp left so he could pull out of the parking lot. Tiller ran into the path of the car, then backed up to avoid being hit.
When Tiller fired the first shot, which entered Hammond's chest through the left side, he was no longer in the car's path. Tiller fired a second shot, which hit Hammond in the back, as Hammond was moving past him. There is no indication that Hammond aimed the car at Tiller, and Tiller was not in danger of being struck when he fired those two rounds.
Tiller was nevertheless exonerated last October by 10th Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams, who concluded that he reasonably believed killing Hammond was the only way to avoid death or serious injury. The Justice Department is still looking into the shooting and could conceivably prosecute him for knowingly violating Hammond's constitutional rights, but such a case would be considerably harder to prove than the state charges that Adams rejected.
I think any fair-minded person who watches the video carefully has to question Tiller's use of deadly force. Even Adams conceded that it was "troublesome," although she emphasized that "Lt. Tiller had seconds to make this decision" and said "the law prohibits viewing Lt. Tiller's decision to use deadly force from the perspective of a 'Monday morning quarterback.'" Whether or not Tiller's actions were legally justified, Hammond's death is not just regettable but morally grotesque, since it would not have happened but for a two-bit drug sting that accomplished nothing, a pointless battle in an unjust war.