COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The family of a 19-year-old man who was fatally shot by a South Carolina police officer last year has settled its wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Seneca for $2.15 million.
The settlement, nearly 10 times higher than a figure approved last week by city leaders, comes as a federal investigation continues into the officer’s actions. State prosecutors have said they won’t pursue charges of their own.
At a news conference Wednesday, the parents of Zachary Hammond said no amount of money will bring back their son but that the settlement will help them move on, particularly when it comes to refocusing attention on their other teenage son.
“No parent should ever have to investigate their child’s death,” said Angie Hammond, Zachary’s mother. “Our grief doesn’t end here. We still have a long and hard journey ahead of us.”
Attorneys representing the city didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
The settlement doesn’t admit fault on the part of the city, the police chief or the officer who shot and killed the unarmed teenager during an attempted undercover drug arrest on July 26. The officer said he fired because he was afraid of being run over by Hammond’s fleeing car. Hammond was white, as is the officer.
According to the family’s wrongful death lawsuit, filed last year, Lt. Mark Tiller threatened to blow Hammond’s head off before shooting him and another officer gave the dead teen’s body a high-five.
Dashcam video of the shooting shows Tiller yelling at Hammond to put up his hands and stop his car, but Hammond instead drives away before being fatally shot. In the video, the officer grabs the left front fender of the gray sedan as the car keeps moving away in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. The officer shoots as the car drives by.
The car then moves out of view of the camera, but the audio picks up the sounds of crying, and an officer telling someone to again put their hands up.
Tiller has previously said through his attorney that he thought Hammond was threatening to run him over and fired to protect himself. Local prosecutors have said that Tiller’s actions didn’t meet the standard for criminal prosecution on the state level, nothing that the officer was forced to decide in less than three seconds whether to fire his gun and that evidence supports his position.
“If an officer does tell you to stop, stop,” Angie Hammond advised Wednesday, saying her son should have heeded Tiller’s command. “That was wrong. But it wasn’t worth him losing his life for.”
The city last week approved paying out $250,000 toward a settlement, and the remaining $1.9 million will come from an insurance policy that covers municipalities within the state, said family attorney Eric Bland. All of the settlement details still must be approved by a federal judge before it is final.
Federal authorities are continuing to investigate the case. On Wednesday, Bland pointed out that a federal grand jury has been discussing the matter since last summer.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/
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