When a police officer in South Carolina opened fire on 19-year-old Zachary Hammond in July, the official account was a familiar one: The officer feared he was about to be run over.
But that account is being challenged by Hammond's family, which claims an independent autopsy suggests that the bullets came through the driver's-side window — proving the officer was not in the vehicle's path — are demanding greater transparency from the Seneca Police Department on what happened.
Similar claims regarding an unarmed man being killed by police have generated national outcry before, but so far, that has not been the case. The reason, the family says, is because Hammond was white.
"An unarmed white teenager whose life is wrongfully taken at the hands of overzealous police is the same and equal to an unarmed black teenager whose life is wrongfully taken at the hands of overzealous police," the family's attorney, Eric Bland, told the Los Angeles Times. "That’s very, very disturbing to us.”
The relative lack of national attention has slowly been leading to more questions on social media.
Seneca Police Chief John Covington refused for days to release the name of the officer who shot Hammond, but on Friday identified him as Lt. Mark Tiller, assigned to the department's K-9 unit.
According to a statement released by Tiller's attorney, John Mussetto, Tiller has worked in law enforcement for 10 years and was called to the Hardee's parking for an undercover drug deal that was expected to take place there.
Seneca police have said Tiller fired his weapon because he feared for his life when Hammond drove his car toward him.
According to Mussetto's statement, Tiller ordered Hammond to show his hands, but the Hammond allegedly reversed his car toward the patrol car, and then accelerated toward Tiller, "forcing the lieutenant to push off of Mr. Hammond's car to keep from being struck and run over."
Tiller fired two shots, according to the statement.
Hammond's passenger, a 23-year-old woman, was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana.
But Bland released a second, independent autopsy that suggests Hammond was shot from the side of the vehicle through an open window, raising questions as to how the officer was in fear of his life if he was standing to the side.
"It was deceptive to state that Zachary was shot in the 'chest and shoulder," Bland said in a written statement Wednesday. "Clearly, this officer was not in any danger at the time he fired the two shots into the car."
Seneca Police Chief John Covington had refused previously to name Tiller, saying that investigators, "consider him a victim of attempted murder."
Covington told NBC affiliate WYFF that the car was headed at an angle, and that the shots entered through the driver's-side window.
But the secondary autopsy, and the department's decision not to immediately identify the officer involved, raised questions about the fatal police encounter and the department's transparency, including from Hammond's parents.
Police officials said there is a recording of the shooting, but have declined to make it public.
"I fear that the officer made a poor judgement in his decision," Paul Hammond, Zachary's father, told WYFF. "I hear them say he feared for his life, but when you see the gunshot wounds in my son, it's hard to believe at that time he was afraid for his life."
In the absence of national outcry over the case, however, Hammond's name has appeared for days alongside the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag — a movement that has raised public awareness over the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sam DuBose, and Freddie Gray.
Despite Hammond being white, his death appeared to have raised concern within the movement over law enforcement's use of force, and what many perceive as a lack of transparency.
Last week, Covington released a statement saying the police department had released all the information it could, but that officials wouldn't be releasing anything further because of possible litigation.
"We have stated the facts as we know them and do not have any intent of doing otherwise," Covington said.
According to Tiller's attorney, a "white powdery substance consistent with powder cocaine," was also found on Hammond and being inspected.
The fatal shooting is being investigated by the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division.
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Salvador Hernandez at email@example.com.
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