Hammond video should be released says FOIA attorney

A University of South Carolina law and journalism professor who’s an expert on the Freedom of Information Act says police should release the dash-cam video of the shooting of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond in Seneca. The State Law Enforcement Division has refused to release the video, saying it falls under exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act.

But Jay Bender, the professor and attorney, says, “SLED’s had a problem over the years trying to invent its own exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act.”

In general, SLED is saying it won’t release the video because it’s part of an ongoing investigation. But Bender says, “The Department of Public Safety, SLED and almost every police department claims that that’s an exemption. It’s just not in the law. They’re making it up.”

SLED wouldn’t comment about Bender’s criticism. In its letter denying our request for the video under the FOIA, SLED spokesman Thom Berry wrote, “This is an active and ongoing investigation pursuant to which no arrests have been made. As such, the records you seek are sensitive law enforcement records not otherwise available by state and federal law that were compiled in the process of detecting and investigating crime the premature disclosure of which would absolutely harm SLED and its prospective law enforcement action in this matter.”

That wording is taken directly from the Freedom of Information Act, part of which lists exemptions as, “Records of law enforcement and public safety agencies not otherwise available by state and federal law that were compiled in the process of detecting and investigating crime if the disclosure of the information would harm the agency.”

How the release of the dash-cam video would harm SLED is not clear and SLED wouldn’t comment.

Bender says, “The public needs to see these records to provide oversight to the police, so that we can have confidence that the police understand they’re here, as they say on all their cars, to protect and serve, not to control and intimidate.”

He says the Hammond case is a perfect example of how much dash-cam or body cam video would help. The 19-year-old was unarmed and was shot and killed outside a fast food restaurant in Seneca on July 26th during an undercover drug sting.

Police say they shot in self-defense because Hammond drove his car at them. But an autopsy showed he was shot in the back, through the driver’s window.

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