- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Department of Justice has opened a civil rights probe into the case of a white man who was shot and killed inside his car by a South Carolina police officer last month.

The investigation into the death of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond comes after his family questioned whether his race was the reason his death had not initially provoked the same national outcry as similar officer-involved shootings involving black civilians.

The federal investigation by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division will also involve the FBI office in Columbia, South Carolina, and the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina. It will “run parallel to the state’s investigation,” according to a statement released by the department on Wednesday.

Hammond was killed July 26 in the parking lot of a Hardee’s restaurant after Seneca Police Department officers converged on his car as part of a drug investigation. At the time, Hammond was on a first date with 23-year-old Toni Morton and the pair were eating ice cream. She was later charged with simple possession of marijuana.

Seneca police have said that Lt. Mark Tiller fired two shots which struck Hammond when the teen accelerated the car toward the officer.

Citing results from a second autopsy, attorneys for the family have called into question whether the officer was in danger saying that the fatal shots were fired at close range through the driver’s side window and not from in front of the car.

John Mussetto, the attorney for Lt. Tiller, said previously that the officer was forced “to push off of Mr. Hammond’s car to keep from being struck and run over.”

The Justice Department’s announcement came Wednesday hours after Hammond’s family held a press conference to call on the investigators to release police dashboard camera footage from the incident, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

“I hope it shows some answers to what happened that night,” Paul Hammond, the teen’s father, told reporters. “We need some kind of closure.”

An attorney for the family, Ronnie Richter, said the outside review of the case “should be good for all parties involved,” according to the newspaper.

Earlier in the day Mr. Richter issued a statement asking the Justice Department to open a probe into the case.

“While many other recent events have involved white on black police shootings, police brutality and the excessive use of force are race neutral issues,” the statement said. “Every death of an unarmed teen, regardless of color, strips a piece of our dignity and humanity as a society.”

After Hammond’s family initially spoke out earlier this month about their son’s death and criticized the lack of outrage, many activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement took to Twitter to express support for the family and to raise awareness about the case.

Aside from confirming the investigation into the Hammond case, the Justice Department declined to comment further due to the ongoing investigation.

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