A South Carolina police officer who shot and killed an unarmed 19-year-old in July 2015 has been fired from the Seneca Police Department, nearly a year after a prosecutor opted not to press criminal charges in the incident.
“I have terminated Mark Tiller’s employment with the Seneca Police Department,” Seneca Chief of Police John Covington told The Huffington Post in an emailed statement. “This is a ‘Personnel Matter’ and therefore I am unable to provide any further comment or information beyond this statement.” Covington said Tiller will remain on the payroll until Friday, Sept. 9.
Tiller fatally shot Zachary Hammond on July 26, 2015, as the teen, who is white, drove out of a Hardee’s parking lot. In a dashcam video released last year, Tiller can be seen approaching the car and, seconds later, firing into the driver’s side window as Hammond attempts to flee. Tiller claimed Hammond was attempting to run him over and he feared for his life. He has remained on paid administrative leave since the shooting and hasn’t returned to duty of any kind, Covington said.
“For reasons not provided although speculation is abound, Chief Covington made the admirable decision to terminate Lt. Tiller’s employment,” the Hammond family said in a statement released through their attorney, Eric Bland. “For that we all are grateful and we want to let Chief Covington know that we appreciate his decision. With each passing day the Hammonds never lost hope that Lt. Tiller would in the future never again have the highest honor of serving the public as a police officer, wear the uniform and carry a weapon.”
The Hammond family described Tiller as a “rogue” officer whose actions resulted in the “senseless death” of their son.
Hammond’s death last year became part of the nationwide debate over law enforcement’s use of deadly force. It elicited a response from activists with the Black Lives Matter movement, who said the incident spoke to the transracial nature of their concerns. Others called attention to the fact that the shooting began with a botched undercover marijuana sting that had targeted the passenger in Hammond’s vehicle. Hammond’s passenger was suspected of carrying only $60 worth of marijuana, Bland said in a statement.
Hammond’s attorneys and law enforcement officials also sparred over the details of the incident, which ended with Tiller shooting Hammond twice at close range. The video shows Tiller approaching the vehicle with his gun drawn, before ordering Hammond to get out of his car. When Hammond’s car backs up and begins to drive forward, Tiller runs toward the front of the car. By the time Tiller opens fire, the video shows him standing to the side of the car.
Although a state prosecutor determined that Tiller did not violate the law when he fired two shots at Hammond’s moving vehicle as the teen attempted to flee, the city of Seneca settled the suit with the Hammond family for $2.1 million in March.
Warning: The video below may be upsetting to some viewers.
The Hammond family suit against Tiller and the Seneca Police Department made a series of deeply troubling accusations against Tiller and the other officers who responded to the fatal shooting. The suit alleged that officers were disrespectful to Hammond’s body and were seen celebrating. One officer raised Hammond’s lifeless hand and gave it a “celebratory high-five,” the lawsuit charged.
While cleared of criminal wrongdoing at the state level, Tiller remains under federal investigation by the Department of Justice for a possible civil rights violation.
“[A]ll lives matter and it is an injustice to each and every American when an officer-related shooting is not handled with sensitivity and absolute transparency,” the family’s statement reads. “Regardless of what the future holds for Lt. Tiller and others associated with the death of Zachary Hammond, the Hammonds offer their thanks and prayers to the brave men and women in blue.”