SENECA — Attorneys representing the parents suing over the shooting death of their son at the hands of a Seneca police officer are circling Friday as a big day for preparing their case.
Come Friday, attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter get to see discovery material that the city of Seneca unsuccessfully attempted to keep confidential by invoking attorney-client privilege.
U.S. magistrate judge Kevin McDonald set the day as a deadline for Seneca officials to turn over their private communications with Complete Public Relations — a Greenville-based PR firm that handled all media inquiries concerning the police shooting of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond on July 26, 2015.
Earlier in the week, McDonald issued a ruling denying the defendants’ motion to quash a Bland-Richter subpoena of the public relation firm’s materials related to its work on behalf of Seneca city attorney Michael J. Smith.
Bland and Richter said they were “very pleased” with McDonald’s decision.
“(It’s) consistent with the public’s right to know and full sunlight on the case,” Bland wrote in an email to The Journal.
In his seven-page ruling filed Tuesday, McDonald rejected Seneca’s claim that attorney-client privilege should be extended to include its consultations with Complete Public Relations. Before ruling, McDonald personally reviewed the CPR records that Seneca desired to remain confidential based on its attorney-client argument.
“The court concluded after an in-camera review that (Seneca) had failed to meet its burden of showing that the communications ‘involved gathering information from client confidences or providing information through the consultant to the attorney for the purpose of assisting the attorney in giving legal advice,’” McDonald wrote.
McDonald directed CPR to provide Bland-Richter “with unredacted copies of all documents logged as privileged on or before Friday.
Bland told The Journal the law firm postponed its deposition Friday of Lt. Mark Tiller, the officer who shot Hammond during a hastily conceived drug sting that went awry. The deposition has been rescheduled for April 1.
Just last week, McDonald turned down a request by Tiller’s attorneys to delay the deposition three months on the grounds that an active FBI investigation into the shooting “profoundly and detrimentally impacts Mr. Tiller’s ability to participate in his upcoming deposition.”
The FBI and the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina announced Aug. 12, 2015, three weeks after the Hammond shooting, that they were launching their own investigation to run parallel with the inquiry into the events by the State Law Enforcement Division.
After a review of SLED’s investigation into the shooting, 10th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams declined to pursue criminal charges against Tiller. The solicitor determined from her review of the case, and a dash-cam video of the shooting, that Tiller only had seconds to react at a moment when he perceived himself to be in harm’s way.
After withholding the video from public view for months, SLED released it in late October on the same day that Adams released her findings.
The video shows Tiller approaching Hammond’s vehicle with weapon drawn and firing into the driver’s side window as the suspect attempted to flee from the officer. Initially, the police account of the shooting characterized Tiller shooting in self-defense as Hammond attempted to run him over.
Tiller was placed on administrative leave after the shooting.
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