A civil rights investigation was launched Tuesday after a deputy flipped a student backward in her desk and dragged her across the floor when she refused to leave her math class.
In a statement, FBI Special Agent in Charge, David Thomas, said, “The Columbia FBI Field Office, the 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.”
Richland County Sheriff, Leon Lott, calling the incident “very disturbing,” sought federal help into the matter. Senior Deputy Ben Fields was subsequently placed on leave.
The incident started when the girl in question refused to hand over her cellphone during class, as reported by Peoria Journal Star. In the videos of the incident that were shared online, Fields asks the student to leave the class. When she refuses, he wraps his arm around her neck, flips her backward and drags her toward the front of the classroom. He then progresses to handcuff her.
Another video recorded by a student reveals added conversation. Tony Robinson, Jr., who captured the footage, said, “I’ve never seen anything so nasty looking, so sick to the point that you know, other students are turning away, don’t know what to do, and are just scared for their lives. That’s supposed to be somebody that’s going to protect us. Not somebody that we need to be scare off, or afraid.”
The girl in question was charged with disturbing schools, as reported by WLTX. Another student, who identified herself as Niya Kenny and said she was standing up for her classmate, was also charged with disturbing schools. “I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl,” Kenny said. “A big man, like 300 pounds of full muscle. I was like ‘no way, no way.’ You can’t do nothing like that to a little girl. I’m talking about she’s like 5’6″.”
School Superintendent, Debbie Hamm, said, “The district will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of our students.” School Board Chairman, Jim Manning, said, “There is no doubt that the video is extremely disturbing. The amount of force used on a female student by a male officer appears to me to be excessive and unnecessary.”
While Fields is white and the students are black, Lt. Curtis Wilson said in an email to “keep in mind this is not a race issue.” On the other hand, South Carolina’s NAACP president, Lonnie Randolph Jr., said that “race is indeed a factor.” He added, “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.”
Fields has been previously involved in cases of racial discrimination and use of excessive force. In 2005, he was accused by a black couple for using excessive force and battery during a noise complaint arrest. In another case, a woman alleged that Fields violated her rights during an arrest made in 2006; however, the case was dismissed in 2009.