SENECA, S.C. -- After reviewing dash cam footage of the officer-involved shooting that killed 19-year-old Zachary Hammond in July, South Carolina 10th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams has revealed she will not pursue criminal charges against the officer, Police Lt. Mark Tiller.
In a letter to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, she explained her decision not to file charges against Officer Tiller, who shot and killed Hammond on July 26 in what authorities describe as an undercover drug operation.
She said the Seneca officer who fatally shot the 19-year-old during a drug sting didn't correctly approach the teen's vehicle, but that doesn't make him criminally responsible. Adams made the announcement after meeting with Hammond's family.
The U.S. Justice Department is still investigating to determine whether to file federal charges.
Adams called it "concerning that Lt. Tiller chose to run up to Hammond's car instead of staying at his patrol car's door in attempting" to stop Hammond. Still, Tiller broke no state law, Adams wrote in the eight-page letter. She noted Tiller was forced to decide in less than three seconds whether to fire his gun.
The evidence "corroborates and supports Lt. Tiller's belief that he was going to be run over," she wrote in the letter, released Tuesday by the state agency as part of the case file.
A lawsuit filed by Hammond's family claims the teen had taken a woman on a first date before the shooting, then stopped at Hardee's so he could get a hamburger.
Adams said the facts don't support such claims. Adams said most of the 842 pages of text messages collected from Hammond's phone dealt with drug sales, including a history of him supplying the woman, his passenger, with drugs. The texts also indicated an aggressive attitude toward police, including messages of him being "in full outlaw mode" and saying he'd "go out shootin."
Hammond, who had "Outlaw" tattooed on his arm a month before his death, also texted about running through police checkpoints on several occasions, including when his mother or brother were in the vehicle. At one checkpoint in June, an officer tried to open Hammond's car door after seeing what he suspected was methamphetamine in the vehicle, but Hammond fled and wasn't arrested, Adams wrote.
Hammond was evading arrest on an outstanding warrant at the time of his death, for failure to appear in court, and said in text messages he had no intention of stopping for law enforcement or going to jail, Adams wrote. "Hammond had been on a dangerous and destructive course for a significant period of his life," she said. Ronald Richter Jr., an attorney for Hammond's family, said the family respects Solicitor Adams' work, but "we completely disagree with the decision not to go forward."
At the meeting, the family and attorneys for the first time saw the dashcam video of the shooting, Richter said. "It was very painful for them to watch that, but for the first time they have a better understanding of what took place," he told The Associated Press.
The video, also released by the state law enforcement agency, shows the police cruiser speeding to the parking lot and pulling up behind a silver sedan. "Hands up! Put 'em up!," Tiller yells as he approaches the car.
The car backs up and then starts pulling away. Tiller grabs the left front fender of the car as it moves by, at which point he fires at the driver. The car moves out of camera view, but the audio later picks up the sounds of crying and an officer telling someone to again put their hands up. Seneca police said an undercover officer was at the Hardee's after arranging a drug deal with the woman.
The woman was not injured and later was charged with simple possession of marijuana. Cocaine packaged for distribution was found in Hammond's shorts pocket, and packages of marijuana were found near his seat, Adams wrote.
Greg Dietterick, the city administrator for Seneca, said in a statement Tuesday that the investigation "shows Lt. Tiller was acting in self-defense. It is now time to start healing Seneca." The community of 8,200 is in upstate South Carolina, a few miles west of Clemson. Tiller attorney John Mussetto said the officer agrees with the outcome of the investigation. "As stated from day one, Lt. Tiller acted in self-defense and the decision today supports this position," Mussetto said.
According to CBS affiliate WTVR, Zachary Hammond's parents spoke to the press after the announcement not to file charges.
"I'm very disappointed. It's just hard to understand," his mother, Angie Hammond, said.
When asked what they thought of the dash cam video after pleading to see if for weeks, Paul Hammond said, "I think there are a lot of questions and very sorry police work, in my opinion. Very sorry police work. That is not how things should be handled. My son lost his life and he should not have."