After a quick investigation into the incident where a South Carolina high school student was thrown across a classroom during an arrest, Richland County deputy Ben Fields was fired Wednesday, according to the county sheriff. Fields violated proper procedure, Sheriff Leon Lott said at a press conference, and his flipping the Spring Valley High School student, a female, onto her back (while still seated in the desk) before tossing her headlong across the floor — caught on at least three cell phone videos — was improper and wrong, but the arrest itself would still stand.
CBS News reported October 28 that Richland County Sheriff’s deputy Ben Fields, who had been a resource officer at Spring Valley High School for seven years, was fired early Wednesday after an investigation into his actions on Monday prompted the Sheriff’s Department to do something other than suspend the officer. Lott said at the news conference: “I can tell you what he should not have done: He should not have thrown that student.”
Sheriff Lott also requested an FBI investigation into the incident to determine whether or not there were civil rights violations involved after critics accused Fields of racial bias, because not only was the student black and the officer white but allegations had surfaced that Fields had a history of aggressive behavior, especially toward blacks. Lott told reporters Wednesday that Fields apologized for his actions when informed of his termination and said he was only trying to do his job.
Critics, however, say he went too far. Called into the Spring Valley High School math classroom after a teacher and a school administrator had both asked and ordered the 16-year-old student to leave the classroom several times, Officer Ben Fields, as can be seen in the videos, also ordered her to get up from her desk and leave. When she didn’t, Fields attempted to pull her from her seat, she resisted, and he flipped her, desk and all, onto her back. He then quickly grabbed her and propelled her forward, following behind, then straddling her to get her hands behind her back to place handcuffs on her. In a second video, another student, vocally objecting to Fields’ treatment of the prostrate student, is told that they will be put in jail next. (CNN reported that 18-year-old Niya Kenny was later arrested for yelling and cursing at Fields, charged the same as the 16-year-old, for “disturbing schools.”)
Appearing on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” Tuesday night, Sheriff Leon Lott said, “There’s no justification for some of his actions.” He did note, though, that the student hit Fields at the onset of his attempt to remove her from her desk. Still, Lott told reporters the next day (per Reuters), “That is not a proper technique and should not be used by law enforcement.”
And yet, Lott pointed out that the incident would not have occurred had the student simply complied with the teacher and administrator’s’ requests to leave the classroom for her disrupting behavior. The sheriff noted that some of the responsibility for what occurred afterward rested with the student.
The sheriff and his department say they have no reports of any injuries having been sustained during the confrontation. However, the teen’s attorney told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that his client was “brutally attacked.” Todd Rutherford said, “She now has a cast on her arm, she has neck and back injuries. She has a Band-Aid on her forehead where she suffered rug burn.”
According to CBS News, Sheriff Lott maintains that the charges brought against the two students will not be dropped. Both cases will be tried at a later date.
As for now former Sheriff’s deputy Ben Fields, no charges have been filed against him.