South Carolina Sheriff Fires Deputy Seen Manhandling Teenage Girl in Video

News & Politics

South Carolina police officer captured on video this week pulling a female student from her desk in a school classroom and tossing her to the floor has been fired, the county sheriff says.

Ben Fields, who had been suspended without pay since Monday, is no longer a deputy with the Richland County sheriff’s department, sheriff Leon Lott announced on Wednesday after his department completed an internal investigation.

“He picked a student up, and he threw a student across the room. Based on that, that is a violation of our policy,” Lott said.

“I do not feel the proper procedure was used at that point, and that’s what caused me my heart burn, and my issues with this. The maneuver that he used was not based on the training or acceptable.”

The Department of Justice is reviewing the incident for any potential civil rights violations; Lott has asked the FBI to investigate Fields’ actions for any criminal violations.

Video that showed Fields manhandling the student for refusing to leave her chair provoked outrage nationwide this week. At a school board hearing on Tuesday night, parents accused the district’s leaders of negligence and said the altercation reveals race issues.

Lott said responsibility for initiating the incident falls on the student, but that didn’t justify Fields’ actions, which he said were in violation of the department’s training procedures.

“This whole incident started by this student. She is responsible for initiating this action. There’s some responsibility that falls on her. Now the actions of our deputy – that falls on [us].” 

“Now, what she did doesn’t justify what our deputy did. It doesn’t justify his actions. But she must be held responsible for what she did.”

Columbia attorney Todd Rutherford told ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday that Fields should have been fired as soon as Sheriff Leon Lott saw the video recorded by several students at Spring Valley high school in Columbia.

“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 told the network.

Lott had said Tuesday that the girl was uninjured in the confrontation but “may have had a rug burn”.

Fields’ initial suspension was not nearly enough for one parent, who asked the school board on Tuesday night: “You’re beating up little girls in school and you’rethinking about firing him?”

Others simply expressed their disgust for the officer’s behavior at Spring Valley High School, including one mother who said: “if I want to put my hand on my child that’s my business, but for somebody else to grab my child, that’s just despicable.”

But the school board hearing also exposed fault lines in the community. Rebecca Woodford, a mother of Spring Valley students, told local WSPA news: “My daughters all love him.”

The school board released a statement about the incident, with chairman James Manning saying he found the video “extremely disturbing”.

“The amount of force used on a female student by a male officer appears to me to be excessive and unnecessary,” Manning said. He said that the county superintendent, Debbie Hamm, had contacted the sheriff to make sure the deputy was banned from all district schools.

Hamm also released a statement, saying the district is “deeply concerned” and “student safety is and always will be the district’s top priority. The district will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of our students.”

Lott told reporters he “wanted to throw up” after watching the video, but added that he doubted any racial element to the incident, in part because Fields has dated an African American woman for “quite some time”.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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