SOUTH CAROLINA — The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into a fatal officer-involved shooting — though this one, in South Carolina, is different than others given that the victim is a white teenager.
The department’s civil rights division, the FBI office in Columbia, South Carolina, and the U.S. attorney for the state have launched the probe into the shooting of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond, Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson announced Wednesday.
Hammond was shot by a police officer on July 26 while in the parking lot of a Hardee’s fast-food restaurant in Seneca, according to Eric Bland, one of the attorneys representing the late teen’s family.
“The investigation will run parallel to the state’s investigation,” said Iverson, referring to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which also is looking into the case.
The announcement comes a day after lawyers for Hammond’s family requested such an inquiry due to what they called “the substantial violations of (the late teenager’s) civil rights” and the need for a “transparent and independent investigation of the Seneca Police Department.”
“The Hammond family hopes and trusts that the United States Justice Department will investigate the death of their son with the same intensity and thoroughness as it has demonstrated in other interracial settings,” the family lawyers’ statement said.
Seneca Police Chief John Covington told CNN affiliate WHNS that Lt. Mark Tiller, a uniformed officer conducting a drug investigation, stepped out of a marked vehicle with a gun drawn and walked toward Hammond’s car.
The officer opened fire — in self-defense, police say — after the unarmed teen accelerated and drove toward the officer.
“If not for Lt. Tiller’s quick reflexes and his ability to push off the car, Lt. Tiller would have easily been run over by Mr. Hammond,” Tiller’s attorney, John Mussetto, said in a statement.
Authorities found a small amount of marijuana in the front passenger compartment in Hammond’s car.
Bland said, “He was a 19-year-old, 121-pound kid killed basically for a joint.”
Hammond’s mother, Angie, said, “Not only are we grieving that our son is gone, we don’t know why it happened or what happened. We’re just trying to find answers.”