South Carolina Sheriff Asks FBI and Justice Dept. to Investigate Violent Arrest of Student

A still from one of the videos of the incident at Spring Valley HS. The officer in the video has been identified as Ben Fields.
A still from one of the videos of the incident at Spring Valley HS. The officer in the video has been identified as Ben Fields.

A South Carolina sheriff has asked federal authorities to investigate a deputy’s arrest of a high school student, after video showed him slamming the girl to the ground and dragging her across a classroom.

The actions by officer Ben Fields, who is white, at Spring Valley High School in Columbia on Monday drew swift condemnation after video recordings of the incident involving a black student were picked up by media outlets and posted on social media.

A spokesman for Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said he had asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department on Tuesday to launch independent investigations of the incident, which comes amid heightened scrutiny of the use of force by U.S. police, particularly against minorities.

A hashtag #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh was trending nationwide within hours of the classroom arrest.

Lott “has questions like everyone has and he wants answers,” said sheriff’s Lieutenant Curtis Wilson.

Fields was placed on administrative duties, Wilson added, meaning for now he will not patrol streets or work as a school resource officer.

The Richland School District Two barred Fields from returning to any of its 40 schools during the investigation, and district officials said they would not tolerate behavior that jeopardized the safety of students.

“The amount of force used on a female student by a male officer appears to me to be excessive and unnecessary,” said James Manning, chairman of the Richland Two Board of Trustees.

Fields did not reply to an email request for comment.

Lott told a local television station that Fields was called to a classroom Monday afternoon after a student refused a teacher’s request to leave.

A video apparently recorded by another pupil shows Fields approaching the girl, who is seated at a desk, wrapping his arm under her chin and flipping the desk with her in it.

Fields then drags her from the chair and tosses her on the floor, as the classroom full of students looks on in silence, before handcuffing her.

“Put your hands behind your back,” the officer says. “Gimme your hands.”

The girl does not appear to resist or argue with the officer. She was arrested for “disturbing school” and later released to her family, Wilson said.

A founding member of the Richland Two Black Parents Association said parents were saddened, but not surprised.

The parents association, which has 5,700 members after being formed a year ago, has called for a Justice Department probe into what it says are discriminatory practices by the school district that have been in place for years, said Stephen Gilchrist, who has one son who graduated from Spring Valley High and another attending now.

The district has a legacy of expelling and suspending large numbers of African-American students, he said.

Nearly 59 percent of the district’s 27,500 students are black, officials said.

“What we have been saying for the last several years is that there are some real issues with the school district,” Gilchrist said. “We don’t want this to be about just this officer. There is much more going on that has helped create a culture of discrimination within this district.”

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina and Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Editing by James Dalgleish)