Attorneys representing the family of Zachary Hammond, the 19-year-old fatally shot by police last month in Seneca, South Carolina, released an independent autopsy Wednesday showing that the officer's two bullets struck Hammond in the back of his left shoulder and his left side.
Seneca police Chief John Covington had earlier maintained that Hammond was hit in the shoulder and chest, and "not shot from behind" during the July 26 incident, which occurred as police sought to carry out an arrest in a marijuana sting operation targeting a passenger in Hammond's car. Covington has also said that the officer was forced to use his firearm after Hammond accelerated toward him, causing him to fear for his life. Other reports suggest that someone shouted about Hammond having a gun in the moments before he was killed, although Hammond was unarmed. His passenger, Tori Dianna Morton, 23, was charged with simple possession of marijuana after the shooting.
Attorney Eric Bland has repeatedly pushed back against Covington's claims, alleging that the officer, whose name has not been released, shot Hammond in the back and that Hammond's car wasn't moving when the bullets hit him. On Wednesday, Bland released a statement to the media arguing that the autopsy, conducted July 30 at a Greenville hospital, is proof the official police explanation is inaccurate.
"Their findings are telling," Bland said of the medical examiners' conclusion. "They directly contradict the narrative that Chief Covington has tried to shape in this matter. It was deceptive to state that Zachary was shot in the 'chest and shoulder.' It did not give it proper context. It implied that the officer shot Zachary from the front. He did not. The shots were clearly fired from the side to the rear of the vehicle through [the] driver’s open window at close range."
Bland went on to accuse investigators with the State Law Enforcement Division, which is currently reviewing the case, of failing to provide Hammond's family with sufficient information about his death. Covington has refused to identify or describe the officer who shot Hammond, beyond saying that the officer, like Hammond himself, is white. Covington has described the officer as a "victim of attempted murder" and said that making his name public could expose him to "harassment, intimidation or abuse."
The Post and Courier, a newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the officer’s name and work history, as well as for a copy of the official incident report from the shooting. Dashcam video was reportedly turned over to investigators, and The Post and Courier has also requested a copy of that footage. Police officials have not said whether the officer was equipped with a body camera.
In a statement Wednesday, Chrissy Adams, the solicitor for Seneca tasked with determining whether charges will be filed in Hammond's case, pushed back against Bland's comments about the significance of the independent autopsy. She suggested that the findings were "consistent" with the results of the first medical examination and with previous statements by Oconee County coroner Karl Addis that "Mr. Hammond sustained two gunshot wounds to the upper left torso (chest and collarbone-shoulder)." Addis had previously declined to specify which direction those gunshots had come from.
Hammond's death is one of the latest in a string of controversial police killings that have led to calls for increased transparency and tactical reforms in law enforcement. Much of this activism has been coordinated under the Black Lives Matter mantle, which this week appeared to be responsible for a large share of the efforts to get Hammond's case more visibility.
Noting that Hammond's death has received little in the way of national coverage, Bland said in a statement Wednesday that even though both Hammond and the officer were white, the matter should be "investigated and reported by the press with the same tenacity and thoroughness" that have been applied to other, higher-profile police killings involving white officers and black victims.
"The central issue remains the same: As a society we need to curb the excessive and deadly force by our police departments in situations where such force is unwarranted," he said. "White and black unarmed teenagers who are shot and killed by police without the requisite facts being present for the use of deadly force is and should be repugnant to all."
Read a redacted copy of the independent autopsy: