The Justice Department is set to open a federal civil rights investigation following the emergence of a now-viral video showing a school resource officer slamming and dragging a Black female student across the classroom.
The unidentified teenager, who is a student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, took a look at her cell phone during class. According to another student, who has since spoken out about the incident, the teen was reprimanded, but refused to hand over her phone and leave the classroom. Resource officer Ben Fields was called to remove the student.
Before placing her in what appears to be a headlock, Fields — a high school football and strength coach who has been in hot water before for “rough arrests” — tells the student that he will “make” her move. He then puts his arm around her neck, slams her to the ground along with the desk, and drags her across the room. Classmates say the officer also placed his knee in the student’s back during the arrest.
Another student was arrested for protesting the treatment of the student.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott called for federal investigators to review the incident. On Tuesday afternoon, he announced that Fields would be suspended without pay.
From the New York Times:
On the department’s Facebook page on Tuesday, Sheriff Lott said the federal investigation had begun. Local law enforcement officials believe “that the criminal investigation will be best served with the F.B.I. as the lead agency,” Sheriff Lott said, adding that the state police had also been asked to investigate.
The investigation will also include the U.S. attorney’s office in South Carolina.
Many students familiar with Fields told the New York Times that, for the most part, he seems “fair and friendly.” Others, however, detailed questionable encounters they had with the strength coach that support the allegations of excessive force from those who have filed suits against him.
Some students praised the deputy, Ben Fields, as fair and friendly, a professional, authoritative everyday presence in the halls of the vast tan complex set near a few big-box stores in a sprawling maze of suburban-style housing.
“It was crazy — Deputy Fields was always nice to everyone,” said Quentin Jones, 15, a sophomore.
Another student, Michael Workman, 16, a junior who is white, said that Officer Fields arrested him on suspicion of stealing a phone during his freshman year (Mr. Workman said that he did not steal the phone and that he was not convicted of a crime). He said that after he was handcuffed, Officer Fields lifted him by the handcuffs for a few seconds.
“I had bruises on my wrists and I wasn’t even handcuffed for that long,” Mr. Workman said.
Fields has two open lawsuits — one filed by a former Spring Valley High School student, and another from a couple that claim he violated their civil rights. The lawsuit filed by the student states that Fields “unfairly and recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity.”
SOURCE: NYT | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty
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