The U.S. Justice Department on Friday said it would not bring federal civil rights charges against a former sheriff’s deputy seen in a 2015 video flipping a South Carolina high school student out of her chair and tossing her in a classroom.
The department said that while it looked at whether former school resource officer Benjamin Fields used unreasonable force, there was no evidence to indicate that he willfully deprived the student of her civil rights.
The widely seen video of the arrest by the white officer of the black student in October 2015 at Spring Valley High School in Columbia raised questions of possible racial bias and reignited concerns that the proliferation of police in U.S. schools could criminalize behavior once handled more quietly by school officials.
“This decision is limited strictly to an application of the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statute,” the department said in a statement.
“Mistake, misperception, negligence or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation,” it said.
Fields was then a Richland County sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school. The girl had refused educators’ orders to put away her phone and leave the class, authorities said after the incident
Fields was fired shortly after the video went viral.
On Tuesday, he filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the Richland County Sheriff’s office, the school district and others, online court records showed.
Attorney Scott Hayes told local media that Fields felt vindicated. Hayes was not immediately available for comment.
In September, a South Carolina prosecutor decided against criminally charging Fields.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Andrew Hay)