ABOVE PHOTO: This three image combo made from video taken by a Spring Valley High School student on Monday, Oct, 26, 2015, shows Senior Deputy Ben Fields trying to forcibly remove a student from her chair after she refused to leave her high school math class, in Columbia S.C. The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation Tuesday after Fields flipped the student backward in her desk and tossed her across the floor. (AP Photo)
By Meg Kinnard
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A deputy was fired Wednesday after video showed him flipping a teen backward out of her desk and tossing her across a classroom, with the sheriff saying the officer did not follow proper procedures and training.
Richland County Senior Deputy Ben Fields was told of his firing late Wednesday morning, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said. Fields had been a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School.
The student was being disruptive and refused to leave the classroom despite being told by a teacher and administrator to do so, Lott said, and that’s when Fields was brought in Monday to remove her from the class. She again refused, and Fields told her she was under arrest, Lott said.
She continued to refuse, and at that point the video shows the deputy flipping the teen backward and then throwing her across the room. At that point, Lott said, Fields did not use proper procedure.
“I can tell you what he should not have done: He should not have thrown that student,” Lott said during a news conference.
The agency’s training unit looked at video of the incident and determined Fields did not follow proper training and procedure, the sheriff said.
Calls for Fields to be fired began mounting almost immediately after the video surfaced, and the FBI began a civil rights investigation at Lott’s request. The confrontation was captured on cellphones by students, one of whom said it all started when the girl pulled out her cellphone and refused her math teacher’s attempt to take it away during class.
“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 on her forehead,” Columbia attorney Todd Rutherford, who is representing the teen, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday.
Lott had said Tuesday that the girl was uninjured in the confrontation but “may have had a rug burn.”
The sheriff suspended Fields without pay Monday. Lott, who rushed home from an out of town conference when the news broke, said that a teacher and vice principal in the classroom at the time felt the officer acted appropriately.
More than a dozen parents and community members spoke out at a Tuesday night meeting of the Richland 2 School District. Some, black and white alike, said the issue wasn’t based on race, and, while the officer may have used unnecessary force, the whole incident shows that teachers and administrators need to work harder on finding ways to handle defiant students.
Craig Conwell was angry, imploring board members to take action and saying Fields should have been fired immediately.
“If that was my daughter … that officer being fired would be the least of his worries,” Conwell said. “We are sick and tired of black women being abused. You can say it’s not racist all you want to.”
The deputy also arrested a second girl who verbally objected to his actions. Both girls were charged with disturbing schools and released to their parents. Their names were not officially released.
The second student, Niya Kenny, told WLTX-TV that she felt she had to say something. Doris Kenny said she’s proud her daughter was “brave enough to speak out against what was going on.”
Lt. Curtis Wilson told The Associated Press in an email to “keep in mind this is not a race issue.”
“Race is indeed a factor,” countered South Carolina’s NAACP president, Lonnie Randolph Jr., who praised the Justice Department for agreeing to investigate.
“To be thrown out of her seat as she was thrown, and dumped on the floor … I don’t ever recall a female student who is not of color (being treated this way). It doesn’t affect white students,” Randolph said.
Fields, who also helped coach the Spring Valley football team, has prevailed against accusations of excessive force and racial bias before.
Trial is set for January in the case of an expelled student who claims Fields targeted blacks and falsely accused him of being a gang member in 2013.
In another case, a federal jury sided with Fields after a black couple accused him of excessive force and battery during a noise complaint arrest in 2005. A third lawsuit, dismissed in 2009, involved a woman who accused him of battery and violating her rights during a 2006 arrest.