(COLUMBIA, S.C.) — Federal authorities and officials in South Carolina are investigating a videotaped confrontation apparently showing a school resource officer manhandling a South Carolina high school student.
Here is what’s known about the classroom incident:
The classroom confrontation
The video, which has gone viral on social media, apparently shows a Richland County Sheriff’s Department school resource officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, snatching a female student from her desk before he drags her across the classroom.
The video shows the man grabbing the student as she sits in her desk, eventually wrestling her out of the seat and to the ground.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the girl was causing a disruption in the class. The resource officer “asked her repeatedly to leave with him,” Lott said, but “she refused. At that point he put her under arrest.”
Students witnessing the incident in their algebra class took out their cellphones.
“I was scared, terrified,” sophomore Tony Robinson said to ABC affiliate WOLO-TV in Columbia. “So that was my first judgment call; is get your phone out so that everything after this is recorded.”
Another student, junior Niya Kenny, allegedly interfered, a decision that she said landed her in jail.
“I am traumatized,” Kenny told WOLO-TV. “I could not believe this was going on. They got her out of the classroom. Then he came back … he said, ‘You’re going to jail, too.’ And he put me in handcuffs.”
The school resource officer
The school resource officer was identified as Ben Fields, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. Fields joined the program in 2008 and received a Culture of Excellence award for proving to be an exceptional role model in 2014.
The school website lists Fields as the football team’s defensive line coach and strength and conditioning coach.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Office said Monday night Fields would be placed on administrative duties.
Fields is one of two resource officer’s for Spring Valley High, according to the school district website. The district said it “contracts with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to provide School Resource Officers (SRO) throughout the district. Each SRO is assigned to respond to any facility without a full-time deputy in proximity to his/her primary assignment. These assignments are geographical so as to provide the most rapid response by SROs.”
“All schools are instructed to call 911 first in the event of any emergency,” the district said. “In doing so, the closest on-duty deputy would be dispatched in addition to the SROs.”
Each high school in the district has two resource officers while each middle school, elementary school and alternative school has one officer.
Sheriff Lott was “very disturbed” by it, the sheriff’s office said.
“He has questions like everyone has – and he wants answers and once he has those answers he will address them,” the sheriff’s office said. “The Sheriff is asking for everyone to be patient as this is being fully investigated.
“The Sheriff and the School District will take the appropriate action necessary once this investigation is complete – All SRO’s are at the schools for the safety of all students – these SRO’s are held to a very high standard,” the sheriff’s office added. “The Sheriff fully understands the seriousness of this incident.”
The Richland Two School District Superintendent Debbie Hamm said the district is “deeply concerned,” adding that the school administration is cooperating with authorities on an investigation of what happened.
“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,” she said in a statement. “Upon learning of the incident, school and district administrators began an investigation. We are working closely and in full cooperation with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said he found the incident “wholly unacceptable.”
“This needs to be dealt with quickly and transparently,” Benjamin said in a Facebook statement, adding that this was not “CPD [the Columbia Police Department] or representative of policing that builds trust or confidence!”
Victoria Middleton, the executive director for the South Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “There is no justification whatsoever for treating a child like this. Regardless of the reason for the officer’s actions, such egregious use of force — against young people who are sitting in their classrooms — is outrageous. School should be a place to learn and grow, not a place to be brutalized.”
“We must take action to address the criminalization of children in South Carolina, especially at school,” she added.
Sheriff Lott called Dave Thomas, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for South Carolina, requesting an independent investigation, the sheriff’s office said.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said: “The Columbia FBI Field Office, the [DOJ’s] Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of a student at Spring Valley High School. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence in order to determine whether a federal law was violated. As this is an ongoing investigation, per Department of Justice policy we are unable to comment further at this time.”
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