The city of Seneca’s police chief says he has terminated an officer who shot and killed an unarmed teen during an attempted drug sting last year, but it was not clear why officer was fired 13 months after the incident — and nearly 11 months after a solicitor cleared him of any criminal charges.
Lt. Mark Tiller’s last day on the job will be Friday, according to Chief John Covington. He did not give a reason for Tiller’s firing, saying it was a personnel matter.
Tiller had been attempting to arrest 19-year-old Zachary Hammond’s passenger as part of a July 2015 drug sting in a Hardee’s parking lot. Dashboard camera video released by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) last year showed Tiller rushing toward Hammond’s car with his handgun drawn, yelling “Hands up! Put them up!” The video showed Hammond first back up, then attempt to drive forward in an attempt to flee. Tiller could then be heard yelling “Stop! before firing two shots. The entire incident lasted only four seconds from Tiller’s first command to the shots fired. Hammond died at the scene while a female passenger (and the sting’s original target) was arrested.
The officer later told investigators he was in fear of his life because Hammond had driven towards him, although the video showed that Tiller ran to the side of Hammond’s car. Tenth Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams called the shooting “justified” following a SLED investigation and did not find Tiller committed any criminal acts. But she suggested better training for law enforcement officers to handle such situations.
While state investigators cleared Tiller, the U.S. Justice Department is still reviewing the case to determine if Seneca Police committed civil rights violations.
“After many years of service in law enforcement, it is unfortunate that Lt. Tiller was given such short notice,” a statement by Tiller’s attorney stated. “It makes no sense for the Seneca PD to terminate Lt. Tiller when the state determined there was no basis to press criminal charges. Lt. Tiller looks forward the day when he can share his account of the unfortunate July, 2015 incident.”
Hammond’s family reached a $250,000 settlement with Seneca officials in March. They released their own statement about the news, calling Chief Covington’s decision “admirable.”
“For that we all are grateful and we want to let Chief Covington know that we appreciate his decision,” the statement read. “After Zachary’s death, the Hammonds placed their faith in the justice system and were hoping that Lt. Tiller was going to have to answer for his actions and the decisions he made which resulted in such a senseless death. With each passing day the Hammonds never lost hope that Lt. Tiller would in the future never again have the highest honor of serving the public as a police officer, wear the uniform and carry a weapon. It appears that today is such a day.”
No side involved explained why Tiller suddenly lost his job, although the Hammond family release said “speculation is abound.”