Arrest video fallout: South Carolina deputy who slammed student on the floor is fired

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

SOUTH CAROLINA — An attorney for the South Carolina officer fired for slamming a student to the ground and tossing her several feet says his client’s actions were “justified and lawful.”

Video of the arrest sparked widespread outrage and questions about what role police should play in schools.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott suspended Deputy Ben Fields after the incident, and fired him Wednesday.

“We believe that Mr. Fields’ actions were justified and lawful throughout the circumstances of which he was confronted during this incident. To that extent we believe that Mr. Fields’ actions were carried out professionally and that he was performing his job duties within the legal threshold,” Fields’ attorney, Scott Hayes, said in a statement.

Among the criticisms of Fields: his admitted use of “muscling techniques” to get the student out of her chair. But that’s only one part of the story.

Federal investigators have gotten involved. Another student arrested from the same Spring Valley High School classroom has spoken out. And the sheriff is criticizing a South Carolina law that he says muddles the role of school resource officers.

Sheriff says student deserves part of blame

Richland County has 87 school resource officers, Lott said, and the “actions by Deputy Fields was not typical of the job I expect them to do.”

Fields did wrong and was fired for his actions, Lott said.

But the student must shoulder responsibility for the disruptive behavior that escalated to the officer being called in, the sheriff said.

“When a classroom is disrupted by a student, that disrupts the education process and the students can’t learn and the teachers can’t teach,” Lott said. “We have to have discipline in our schools.”

What the student did does not justify the officer’s actions, the sheriff said, but she must take responsibility for her role.

“We must not lose sight that this whole incident started by this student,” he said. “She is responsible for initiating this action. Some responsibility falls on her.”

Sheriff: The student hit the officer

At least three videos have surfaced of the violent arrest at Spring Valley High School. The sheriff said one of the videos shows the girl attacking the officer before the arrest.

“When the officer puts his hands on her initially, she reaches up and she pops the officer with her fist,” he said.

Still, after watching all the footage, Lott told reporters that he “wanted to throw up.”

“There’s no justification for some of his actions,” the sheriff told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” on Tuesday night.

The videos show the officer standing over the student, seated at her desk. He puts his arm near her neck, then yanks her backward. The desk, which is attached to her chair, tips over; the student crashes backward onto the floor.

But Fields didn’t let go, lifting her slightly off the ground. She flies out of her desk and slides several feet across the floor.

“He regrets it,” Lott told CNN about Fields on Wednesday. “He’s been at that school for seven years. He loves those students. … He wishes it never happened this way. This wasn’t his intent.”

Conflicting reports on injuries

Sheriff’s department spokesman Lt. Curtis Wilson said there were no reports of any injuries. And the sheriff said he did not believe the girl was seriously hurt.

“To my knowledge, she wasn’t injured whatsoever,” Lott said. “She might have had a rug burn or something like that, but she was not injured.”

But Todd Rutherford, the student’s attorney, said his client now has to wear a cast on her arm.

The girl also suffered a bruise on her head, her attorney said.

Student: It started with a cell phone

The 16-year-old girl who was taken to the ground was arrested on a charge called “disturbing schools.” A classmate, Niya Kenny, 18, was also arrested on the same charge.

Kenny told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday night the incident started when her math teacher told the other girl to give up her cell phone. The girl refused and defied orders from the teacher and an administrator to leave the classroom.

That’s when Fields was called in, Kenny said. The school resource officer asked the girl to leave the classroom with him.

Kenny said the offer moved the girl’s laptop off her desk.

“He grabbed her arm, and he put his arm around her neck at first. So that’s why you actually see her — if you get the right video — then you’ll see her trying to swing at him,” Kenny said.

“And at that point, he just flipped the desk back and grabbed her out of it and threw her. And that’s when you see her rolling across the floor.”

Kenny said she and other classmates had their cell phones recording because of the officer’s reputation.

“When he came in the classroom, I immediately told my classmates, ‘Get your phones out, get your phones out. I think this is going to go downhill.’ And it did.”

Her attorney, Simone Martin, said she’s been told “by a number of the students that he is referred to as Officer Slam as opposed to Officer Fields. And that’s telling.”

Kenny was arrested and accused of disturbing school after yelling and cursing at the officer, according to an incident report.

Civil rights investigation

The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office have opened a civil rights investigation to determine whether federal laws were violated during the student’s arrest, a Justice Department representative said.

The sheriff said the FBI is also to be the lead agency in a criminal investigation.

“We do not want any issues with the community or those involved having questions concerning conflicts of interest in this investigation,” he said.

Richland School District Two Superintendent Debbie Hamm thanked the sheriff and his department Wednesday for their “swift response.”

“There may be some who think this is the end of the matter. In Richland Two, however, we continue to work closely with the Sheriff’s Department and independent fedberal and state investigating agencies to examine exactly what happened,” she said.

Analyst: Officer within his rights

CNN law enforcement analyst Harry Houck cautioned against jumping to conclusions about Fields, even if the footage “looks really bad.”

If an officer decides to make an arrest, he or she “can use whatever force is necessary,” said Houck, a retired New York police detective.

“So if you don’t comply with my wishes,” he said, “then I can do whatever it takes to get you out of that seat and put handcuffs on you.”

Sheriff criticizes law on disrupting school

Houck said the officer shouldn’t have been called in to deal with the student in the first place.

“Too often, these teachers in these schools are calling on the cops because they have a disruptive student in the classroom,” he said. “This is not a cop’s job.”

But South Carolina has a law that muddles the role of school resource officers, the sheriff said.

“Unfortunately, our Legislature passed a law that’s called ‘disturbing schools,’ ” he said.

“If a student disturbs school — and that’s a wide range of activities, ‘disturbing schools’ — they can be arrested. Our goal has always been to see what we can do without arresting the kids. We don’t need to arrest these students. We need to keep them in schools.”

14 comments

  • Opinion8d

    @Underdog…not sure what ‘period’ in time you’re from, but times have changed. When I was in school, the teacher or principal would have removed someone -if there were gutsy enough to lip off to that extent. This wasn’t a simple -please get up and leave, type situation. And the police aren’t there to prevent mass shootings -they are there for disciplinary issue mainly. Instead of the teacher grabbing the kid, or the principal, they now call the cops for these things. If you hear how this kids talk to their teachers or anyone of authority, you would be shocked. The fact that you support her suing the school is the exact reason we are where we are today -bleeding heart liberals who have problems with discipline and a law an order society. Ask yourself why they called a cop and put yourself in his shoes -he loses a job because no one else will do theirs? The buck has to stop somewhere. He should not have lost his job.

    • Opinion8d

      @Truth – I don’t care what race this kid is. And if this were my kid, I wouldn’t by crying foul or think any differently. The utter lack of respect for teachers, law enforcement or any authority figure is a major problem and is only going to get worse. And yes, the cops are there for those types of incidents -not mass shootings. Have you seen the videos of kids fighting in class or disrupting classes?? Guy or girl, it doesn’t matter. They run their mouth. There’s been no report on the girl in this case -past issues, what led up to this, etc. They didn’t call the cop in because she simply didn’t want to leave the class. She had her chance to follow directions. If she wants to go ratchet, then you see what happens. I have no sympathy for anyone not following LEO directions.

      • #Truth

        Easy for you to say being its NOT your child. No one knows the facts except the snippet of what is shown.There are ALWAYS 3 sides to every story. Some one takes a swing at a cop they should be arrested, which there is no charge of resisting arrest or battery to a peace officer. Clearly this “officer” was more than forceful with his tactics, if not he’d still be employed. Either way it ain’t my kid. I do my part to make sure my kids are brought up respectfully and to respect authority. Oldest daughter 23, works, no kids, stays out of trouble. Middle son, almost 20 employed full time and currently in college studying police science, life long dream to become an OFFICER, youngest child 10, honor student no problems. We live in Milwaukee, pay taxes and WORK. Those last few sentences you may say are not the issue at hand, maybe not, the point s you blamed ones political beliefs, which he never stated his beliefs are, on his way of thinking. My initial comment yesterday towards you was based on the difference on your comments which vary based on ones race or political beliefs. I see them daily, a white person commits a crime be it murder, car theft, drugs, anything and your comments are mild. But same crime committed by a black person and the comments from you and others alike who follow fox6 news DAILY are mean spirited hell even sometimes name calling. Cut it down the middle. EVERY RACE AND POLITICAL PARTY HAS HEATHENS. One race or group of people can not be lumped into one particular category of criminals and animals. For the record my comment from yesterday was deleted even though there was not one mean spirited word in there, lets see if this one stays up

  • Richard Not

    This officer should not have been fired. It is the student’s fault that she did not obey the teacher, the administrator, and then the officer. The officer successfully removed her when she would not obey authority. She paid the price with physical enforcement. What the officer did was not violent nor excessive. It worked. Other students should learn from this. Follow the rules. Listen to those in charge. If you don’t want to then go somewhere else. If you don’t want to be physically handled and be arrested then get up on your feet when asked/told to and walk out. This is all the student’s fault. The officer should be commended for doing what he did. This is what happens when a child doesn’t learn discipline nor how to behave. I suspect better parenting is probably in order.

      • Reasonless

        WISCO123,
        Yor’re a fool.
        In the years past, one of my kids started out with acting out in the class room.
        The school had 100% support from both my wife and I.
        The problem was dealt with, and never happened again.
        So…. That once was my kid, and YES, I am saying this.
        Fools like you are the problem. Constant denial and excuses.

      • Richard Not

        Wisco123, you would lose that bet. After I saw this video and read the background I told my sons that if they did the same thing that they would be in even more trouble with me and that I’d support the teacher, administrator, and officer. When undisciplined children feel they can get away with anything and then pay the price for their bad behavior it is only worse when the parents try to coddle them even more. Children need to learn that there are consequences to their actions and that they need to follow rules/law. If not, unpleasant things may happen to them. What the officer did was effective, not over the line, and not violent. Forceful, yes. Avoidable, yes. The student had every opportunity to avoid it but chose to escalate. With physical force unpleasant things can happen and it is completely the student’s fault.

  • Shonnie

    I’m a mother of two boys one of which has serious behavior issues he’s disciplined at home it works for a few days then he is back at it and we repeat the cycle. I say this to say if that was my child portraying the behavior that she did maybe she needed to be dealt with accordingly! She clear as day swung at him and resisted arrest what point are we arguing here? She wanted to put on a show for her classmates well he finished up the circus act!

  • Reasonless

    I’m sure that Fox 6 is doing the happy dance over this.
    If that were my kid, the Cop would have been the least of her problems.

  • WISCO123

    Did anyone read that this officer has been violent in the past as well? I don’t understand how we can justify violence as being the answer for any and every sitaution because that’s what it seems like today.

    • Reasonless

      Violent in the eyes of who?
      To the smart a$$ kid that was put in their place?
      WISCO123, you need to either think before posting, or just step away from the keyboard.

  • Cameron

    Get your a $$ out of the chair! Why is it okay that this student defied all attempts at redirection to the point the school felt the police were their only option? Since when is it okay to simply ignore a teacher, administrator or police officer request? What were they supposed to do? Just forget about it? What about all the other students in the class whose learning environment was disrupted by juvenile behavior? As soon as she refused the officers request, she opened the door for more drastic action. The lack of respect in our schools is appalling and the lack of consequences, even more so. This officer shouldn’t have been fired. This student should be expelled for disorderly conduct and ticketed. Grow a pair, people.

  • Darcy

    If my child had behaved this way, I would have supported Officer Fields. The actions/behavior of this student are inexcusable. I don’t care about a person’s background. This little brat refused to leave and wanted to show everyone how “cool” she was. This deputy was doing his job and she should be charged with assaulting a police officer. The video shows her trying to hit him from different angles.

Comments are closed.