Deputy who threw South Carolina student from her desk is fired – Los Angeles Times
The white South Carolina deputy who threw a black student across a high school classroom has been fired for using inappropriate force, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Wednesday.
“The maneuver that he used was not based on the training or was acceptable,” Lott said of Senior Deputy Ben Fields, who had worked as an officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia for seven years. “That is not proper technique and should not be used in law enforcement.”
However, Lott said, the student was still to blame for being insubordinate and disrespectful to her teacher and for refusing the orders of the teacher and a vice principal to leave the classroom.
“The student was not allowing the teacher to teach and the students to learn. She was very disruptive, she was very disrespectful,” Lott said. “She started this.”
Nevertheless, the sheriff said, he and his internal investigators looked at the Fields’ actions, not the girl’s behavior, in making the decision to fire him.
Columbia attorney Todd Rutherford told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that Fields should have been fired as soon as Lott saw video of the incident recorded by several students.
“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,” Rutherford said.
Lott had said Tuesday that the girl was uninjured in the confrontation but “may have had a rug burn.”
The videos of the confrontation Monday stirred such outrage that Lott called the FBI and Justice Department for help.
The videos taken by students and posted online show Fields warning the girl to leave her seat or be forcibly removed after she apparently texted in class and refused to surrender her phone to the teacher. When she doesn’t get up from her desk, the officer wraps a forearm around her neck, flips her and the desk backward onto the floor, tosses her toward the front of the classroom and handcuffs her.
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.
Lott said the initial video made him want to “throw up.” But he also pointed out that the girl can be seen trying to strike the officer as she was being taken down. He said he’s focused on the deputy’s actions, not the student’s.
Email, phone and text messages for Fields were not returned.
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 said he was angry, and implored board members to take action. He said 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.
The sheriff, for his part, said race won’t factor into his evaluation: “It really doesn’t matter to me whether that child had been purple,” Lott said.
Tony Robinson Jr., who recorded the final moments, said it all began when the teacher asked the girl to hand over her phone during class. She refused, so he called an administrator, who summoned the officer.
“The administrator tried to get her to move and pleaded with her to get out of her seat,” Robinson told WLTX-TV. “She said she really hadn’t done anything wrong. She said she took her phone out, but it was only for a quick second, you know, please, she was begging, apologetic.”
Robinson said he pulled out his phone because he thought something was going to happen “that everyone else needs to see.”
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.