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Justice Department investigates police killing of unarmed white 19-year-old

The Department of Justice will determine if an unarmed white 19-year-old's civil rights were violated when a South Carolina police officer shot him to death during a marijuana sting late last month, officials said.

In a brief statement, the Justice Department confirmed it will launch a civil rights investigation into the July 26 shooting of Zachary Hammond in Seneca, S.C. An agency spokeswoman declined to comment further, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.

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Hammond's death bears similarities to fatal police shootings of unarmed black men in the last year but has not sparked the kind of outcry that surrounded those killings.

Hammond was driving through a Hardee's parking lot when police, who were targeting his 23-year-old passenger as part of a marijuana sting, approached his vehicle, according to Eric Bland, the Hammond family's attorney.

When the officer approached, Hammond moved to put his car in park, reaching to the floor where the vehicle's gear shift was located. At that point, Bland said, someone shouted that Hammond had a gun.

Lt. Mark Tiller shot Hammond twice, and the 19-year-old died a short time later. Tiller told police he shot Hammond because the man attempted to ram him with his vehicle. An autopsy conducted at the request of Hammond's family suggested Hammond was shot from the side.

"The family is very satisfied that the DOJ and the FBI are coming in to do a parallel investigation. I think they're better trained and have better personnel to have this kind of issue," Bland told the Los Angeles Times. "We've been calling for independence and objectivity on this investigation for two weeks and I think we're finally getting there."

A spokeswoman for the Seneca Police Department declined to comment. Police have not released video of the shooting, which is currently being reviewed by state investigators, according to Bland.

The family has filed several requests to make the video public, but Bland said they will not have legal standing to subpoena the video unless they file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Although Hammond's death bore some similarities to the shooting death of Sam DuBose by a University of Cincinnati police officer, the South Carolina shooting did not draw nearly as much outrage on social media. Bland and others have suggested Hammond's case was ignored because he was white. Police have not released video of the shooting.

Prosecutors in Ohio announced charges against the officer who killed DuBose the same week that Hammond was killed. Although several prominent members of the Black Lives Matter movement tweeted about Hammond's death and the subsequent investigation, social media data showed the 19-year-old was barely mentioned by other users.

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