Meg Kinnard, MSN, October 28, 2015
A deputy who flipped a disruptive student out of her desk and tossed her across her math class floor was fired on Wednesday. The sheriff called his actions “unacceptable,” and said videos recorded by her classmates show the girl posed no danger to anyone.
“What he should not have done is throw the student,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said. “Police officers make mistakes too. They’re human and they need to be held accountable, and that’s what we’ve done with Deputy Ben Fields.”
Civil rights groups immediately praised the firing of Fields, a veteran school resource officer and football coach at Spring Valley High School. Calls for swift action rose almost immediately after the videos of Monday’s arrest appeared on the Internet, and the sheriff suspended the deputy without pay before firing him altogether.
Lott praised the FBI for agreeing to investigate whether civil rights were violated, and school district officials for promising to review how police are used for discipline.
The sheriff also had stern words for the student who started the confrontation by refusing to hand over her cellphone after her math teacher saw her texting in class–a violation of school policy. Both she and another student who verbally challenged the officer’s actions during the arrest still face charges of disturbing schools.
“The student was not allowing the teacher to teach and not allowing the students to learn. She was very disrespectful and she started this whole incident,” Lott said. “It doesn’t justify his actions. But she also needs to be held responsible for what she did.”
Lott said he wouldn’t describe Fields as remorseful, but rather sorry it all happened.
The agency’s training unit looked at the videos and determined Fields did not follow proper training and procedure, the sheriff said.
“When you make an arrest of someone who does not have a weapon, you never let go of the subject. When he threw her across the room, he let go of her. That’s what violates our policy,” Lott said.
“She wasn’t a danger at that point; she was just being non-compliant and disrespectful. You try to deescalate a situation. And when you do have to put your hands on someone, there are other techniques we use.”
[Editor’s Note: Sheriff Lott has mentioned a video viewed by police which shows the student hitting the officer in the head after he puts his hands on her: “There’s no question about that.”]