Zachary Hammond’s Autopsy: Without Video, Is It Enough?

If we learned nothing else from the autopsy of Michael Brown after he was gunned down in the street in Ferguson, it’s that people don’t “get” autopsies.  Neither physics nor human bodies behave quite as simply as the simplistic minds that conclude it proves that something did, or didn’t happen.  And so it happens again, this time with 19-year-old Zachary Hammond.

The backstory exceeds sad and meanders swiftly into pathetic.  Driving the car, this 2014 high school student with no priors was out with a young lady who had some weed to sell. As it turns out, she was selling it to the cops.

Their son was not the target of the marijuana bust police were attempting, but the girl who was with him may have been, they said.

Tori Dianna Morton, 23, of Pickens was in the car but uninjured in the incident, police said. She was charged with simple possession of marijuana and released Monday from the Oconee County Detention Center, according to police and jail records.

Morton was in and out. Hammond was not so lucky.

According to the account of the incident given to media by Police Chief John Covington, the officer “fired two shots in self-defense” as Zachary “drove his vehicle directly at the officer” in the back parking lot of Hardee’s restaurant on U.S. 123.

Covington said Tuesday that the car was turning toward the officer and he was in its path. The officer fired through the driver’s side window to keep the car from hitting him as it approached from an angle, the chief said.

“The car was still coming at him,” he said.

A little weed. A car moving. Boom, boom, and Zachary Hammond was dead. What’s wrong with this picture.


There was no video of the incident. No video of the buy and bust, no video of the car driven by Hammond moving, no video of an unnamed Seneca, South Carolina, police officer who feared for his life putting two bullets into him, and ending his life.  Some will see this as a killing over a bag of weed. Others will see this as a killing to save the life of a brave police officer.  But will this death be seen as murder?

“It is clearly, clearly from the back,” [family attorney Eric] Bland told Greenville Online on Wednesday. “It is physically impossible for him to be trying to flee or run over the officer that shot him.”

There is an autopsy, and it shows where the bullets struck Hammond.

Bland said the autopsy indicated that the first shot went into Hammond’s left rear shoulder, throwing him forward in the car, and the second one went at a downward angle into his side from the rear, through his heart and lungs and leaving out his lower right side.

The entry wounds were five inches apart, he said.

“The shots were so close in proximity to each other that it would be physically impossible unless the car was stopped and the officer came up very close to an open window,” Bland said.

Physically impossible may be a bit of an overstatement. Highly unlikely, sure, but then, bullets don’t necessarily behave the way they’re supposed to, the way we want them to. They leave a gun and end up wherever they end up, no matter where we think they should.

The problem isn’t whether Bland’s interpretation of the autopsy is right, or even the most accurate interpretation available given all known facts. The problem is that without a video, there are only three potential stories, and one won’t be heard because the teller is dead.

Seneca Police Chief John Covington is sticking to his story, that his cop shot to stop a car about to run him down.  He knows what the autopsy says, and he’s not afraid to spin it to support his officer.  Morton, the woman with the pot, may be able to say what happened, or may have been too shocked to process what was happening around her to be capable of providing a cogent description. Either way, her credibility is subject to dispute.

And so we’re left with the police narrative:

The officer got out of his marked vehicle and approached Hammond’s car with his weapon drawn, Police Chief John Covington said, noting that this is standard practice for a “narcotics” investigation. That’s when, according to the chief, Hammond accelerated his car toward the officer, local Fox affiliate WHNS notes. Covington maintains that his officer “fired two shots in self-defense” as Hammond “drove directly at him.”

What really happened?  A 19-year-old boy was killed because the cops wanted to rid their town of demon weed.  Beyond that, it’s quibbling over the details.

While the autopsy certainly suggests that there was no threat to the police officer of being run down, harmed by the “accelerating” car (which means, it went from being stationary to moving, even if two miles per hour), because if the car was being driven directly at him, the bullets would have gone through the front window, not the side, and would have struck Hammond in the front of his body, not the side or back.

But as most cops, or their apologists, will tell you, things move quickly, split-second decisions are made, and time lag between the realization that action must be taken and the finger pulling the trigger can explain how a bullet went from front to side, to back, even though it was necessary to protect the life of a cop.  Sure, it sounds ridiculous, but as has been seen over and over, any excuse will do when the shooter is a cop.

10 thoughts on “Zachary Hammond’s Autopsy: Without Video, Is It Enough?

  1. Leslie

    Why is no one rallying over this killing an unarmed white teen. Since when is a little marijuana a death sentence for a teenager. To the family don’t stop keep seeking justice don’t let people forget. This must stop just because cops have guns doesn’t mean they can just go around KILLING people.

    1. SHG Post author

      While I’ve heard of cops shooting out tires to end a high speed pursuit, I can’t say why shooting tires in this situation wouldn’t be doable. Maybe a cop can help?

      1. phroggie

        I’m not a cop, but I am familiar with the logic involved, so I’ll give it a shot (bazinga).

        Any use of an officer’s firearm is virtually always conducted on a “shoot to kill” policy. Main reason being that the only time it should be fired is when the officer’s life or the lives of the general public are in imminent danger. By this systematic logic, once the decision has been made, it’s two center mass and one in the head, or until the magazine has been emptied or the threat otherwise eliminated. With regards to tires specifically, they’re small, mobile objects sitting upon a smooth surface that ricochets bullets with lethal energy but wanton inaccuracy. Steel wheels and select brake calipers also ricochet bullets quite effectively, but on a more randomized vector, possibly right back towards the shooter.

    2. Thomas

      Very rarely does shooting something make it stop on a dime. Taking a tire out is some what valid if the vehicle is moving away from you or at some distance. It is rather questionable to do so when the vehicle is within 20′ and heading towards you. If you feel that the vehicle is going to hit you and your life is in danger, the reality of it is that shooting out a tire would make little difference in such a short distance.

      Generally what is done, is to fire at center of mass while moving to cover.

  2. Mike P.

    Two points:

    I have yet to meet a grown man that could not side-step a car in a parking lot, thereby getting out of the “kill zone”.

    Killing a driver does not stop a moving car.

    Thanks for listening.

    1. SHG Post author

      Based upon the fact that the shots were fired, at best, from the side, the first had already been achieved. As for your second point, logic never seems to play a role in decisions to shoot, or the determination that they were justified. Your point is much too rational.

      1. Ross

        After reading numerous accounts of Houston area officers shooting people in moving cars, I came to the conclusion that in the adrenaline engorged brains of officers on the street, it is possible for a vehicle to magically move sideways, perhaps due to suspension of the physical laws of mechanics in a localized area.

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