Zachary Hammond lawyer: police may need federal oversight after teen’s death | US news | The Guardian

| August 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

Zachary Hammond lawyer: police may need federal oversight after teen’s death | US news | The Guardian.

A lawyer representing the family of a 19-year-old man shot dead by police in Seneca, South Carolina, has questioned whether the department is “out of control” and “needs federal oversight because people’s civil rights are being violated”.

In response to a letter signed by Eric Bland and Robert Richter, attorneys for the family of Zachary Hammond, the Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that it was launching a civil rights investigation into the 26 July police shooting that left the unarmed Hammond dead.

Hammond was shot behind the wheel of his car during an attempted drug sting by the Seneca police department in the parking lot of a Hardee’s restaurant. Police said Hammond tried to hit Lieutenant Mark Tiller as the officer approached the vehicle, forcing the officer to fire. Hammond’s family has insisted that his vehicle was not moving, and that the officer shot at him from behind.

But Bland said on Monday that the current Justice Department investigation may not go far enough. Bland told the Guardian that the request for federal oversight is not only about what happened to Hammond, but potentially about systemic problems with the department, its officers and its chief. Two officers from the department resigned last week, including one who had been on the scene the night Hammond was shot.

Bland and Richter’s letter, which called the investigation of Hammond’s death “inadequate”, also raised questions about Seneca police chief John Covington’s 27-year-old son Adam, a former reserve officer with the Seneca police department who pleaded guilty to charges of theft of a controlled substance and misconduct in office on Thursday. Covington received two years’ probation and one year in prison with credit for time already served.

The charges stemmed from allegations that Covington stole 44 hydrocodone pills from a suspect’s purse at the Oconee County detention center after a January 2014 arrest. An investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (Sled) found several incidents in which reserve officer Covington was suspected of similar misconduct.


During a 2013 burglary investigation, Covington allegedly told a colleague not to fingerprint several emptied bottles of pills because “all the officers had picked them up and touched them”. All the other officers on the scene were subsequently interviewed, and denied touching the bottles.

The Sled report depicts multiple department officials hesitant to investigate allegations against reserve officer Covington, because of his relationship to the chief. One captain is quoted as having said “this came straight from the big man that if you go forward with this it would be a career-changing move”, regarding any investigation of the 2013 burglary incident.

In a separate incident, reserve officer Covington was suspected of having stolen $600 from a suspect’s vehicle. The Oconee County sheriff’s office was asked to investigate, but Chief Covington rejected the investigator’s request for officers to submit to polygraph testing. “Adam can’t pass a polygraph anyways,” the chief is reported to have said.

“When you have a police chief’s son who is on the reserve police force and is accused of taking drugs from the detainees, that’s a real problem; when you have money missing, that is a real problem,” Bland said.

The letter suggested that Adam Covington’s legal status could have been connected to the drug sting which ended in Hammond’s death. Tori Morton, the passenger in Hammond’s car that night, and the target of the sting “had additional criminal information regarding Adam Covington”, according to the letter.

Bland did not elaborate on these claims to the Guardian, and Morton could not be reached at any listed number.


Citing law enforcement sources in a neighboring department, Bland and Richter claim in the letter that officers on the scene “desecrated” Hammond’s body, raising his hand and high-fiving it.

The letter also revealed an eyewitness who claims to have seen an officer retrieve something from the back of a patrol car and place it under Hammond’s body after he had been removed from the vehicle. Bland and Richter suggest that this may explain the “white powdery substance consistent with powder cocaine” found on Hammond’s body.

Citing the ongoing investigation, Sled has declined to release footage from a dash camera on the scene. It isn’t clear whether that camera captured the fatal shots fired by Tiller

The Seneca police department has not responded to request for comment, and Chief Covington has stated that no further comments will be made while the investigation is ongoing.

Category: State of the Nation

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