Police in Seneca, South Carolina, denied Wednesday an officer took Zachary Hammond's lifeless hand and high-fived it after an alleged witness to the deadly shooting made the shocking claim.
The allegations of police apparently celebrating the fatal incident by disturbing the 19-year-old's body were included in a letter sent by attorney Eric Bland to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI director James Comey earlier this week, Bland confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
A civil rights investigation into Hammond's death was opened a day after the letter was sent to federal authorities.
In an emailed statement to BuzzFeed News, a public relations firm hired by Seneca Police called the allegations in the letter "false and misleading."
Seneca Police have said Lt. Mark Tiller fired his weapon twice at Hammond when the teen drove his car toward the officer and because Tiller feared for his life.
John Boyanoski of Complete Public Relations said in the statement Wednesday that officers removed Hammond from the car to render aid.
But Hammond's family are challenging the department's account, pointing to a second autopsy that showed bullets entered Hammond's car through the driver's-side window, suggesting Tiller was not in the car's path.
A female passenger who was in Hammond's car during the shooting on July 26 was arrested on suspicion of being in possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Bland told BuzzFeed News in an email that the allegation an officer high-fived Hammond's dead body was reported to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which is heading the investigation into the shooting.
Bland declined to identify the witness, but said the witness gave an account of what they witnessed to him, and to state investigators.
Anthony Moon, an officer who arrived at the scene of the shooting about 40 seconds after shots were fired, resigned from the department earlier this week. Bland told BuzzFeed News a second officer resigned, but Boyanoski said only one officer has resigned from the force.
In a written statement, Seneca Police Chief John Covington said Moon's only involvement in the shooting was to "man a perimeter position while on scene," and declined to offer more details about his resignation.
Covington — who had initially refused to identify Tiller because the officer was considered a "victim of attempted murder" — said last week the department had released all the information it could and would not comment further because of possible litigation.
Tiller's attorney, John Mussetto, said the 10-year law enforcement veteran jumped out of the way of the car and fired because he feared for his life.
Mussetto also alleged a "white powdery substance consistent with powder cocaine" was found on Hammond's person.
According Bland's letter to the Attorney General's office, a witness to the shooting also saw an unnamed officer grab something from the trunk of his patrol car. The officer was seen walking back to Hammond's body, lifting it, putting something on the ground and lowering Hammond's body back to the ground, according to Fox Carolina, which obtained a copy of the letter.
Boyanoski said an automated external defibrillator was retrieved from the trunk of a patrol car after the shooting and attached to Hammond.
"That is standard procedure for the police department," Boyanoski said.
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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