A South Carolina sheriff’s deputy has been fired after videos were posted online Monday showing him violently throwing a high school student from her desk in a classroom.
The videos of the incident involving former Richland County Senior Deputy Ben Fields surfaced just hours after it happened at Spring Valley High School. The Richland County School District 2 and sheriff’s office say they are investigating.
Sheriff Leon Lott and students who were in the class say the girl was asked by the teacher to get off her cell phone, but refused, and then would not leave the class room when asked by an administrator, so Fields was called. She allegedly refused the deputy’s requests to get up from her desk. Fields then was told to remove her from the room and that is when the videos begin.
Here’s what you need to know about Fields and the incident:
1. Fields Told the Student ‘Are You Coming With Me or am I Going to Make You?’
Fields, 34, had been suspended without pay while the sheriff’s office investigated internally. He was the senior school resource officer at the school. The investigation was completed Wednesday.
“Deputy Fields did wrong this past Monday, and we take responsibility for that,” Sheriff Leon Lott said. He said the incident started because of the student and “she needs to be held responsible for what she did.”
“What she did doesn’t justify what our deputy did. I don’t want anybody to think that,” Lott added.
The school district said it told Fields to not return to any school in the district permanently. The Columbia FBI Field Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division have launched a civil rights investigation. That investigation will continue, despite Fields being fired.
The girl, a senior, in the video was arrested, according to the sheriff’s office and the charges have not been dropped. Her name has not been released. The girl’s lawyer, Todd Rutherford, said she was injured. She has a cast on her arm, and suffered back and neck injuries, along with rug burn to her face.
The girl’s mother recently died and she entered foster care, her attorney told the New York Daily News.
Fields’ attorney released a statement after the deputy was fired:
The 15-second video was posted on social media just hours after the incident happened on Monday. It shows a white officer grabbing the black student by the arm as she sits in her desk.
Fields, at one point during the incident, says to the girl, “Are you going to come with me or am I going to make you? Come on. I’m going to get you up.”
In the video, Fields pulls on her arm, moving the desk and the girl and then grabs hold of her shoulder and neck area. He turns over the desk, throwing it and the unnamed student to the ground. He then drags her toward the door, pulling the desk along with her and then throws her out of it before jumping on top of her to handcuff her as the video ends.
The incident started when the teacher, Robert Long, saw the girl on her cell phone and asked her to put it away, her classmate, Tony Robinson Jr., told WLTX-TV.
“She really hadn’t done anything wrong,” he told the news station. “She said she took her phone out, but it was only for a quick second.”
An administrator, who is seen in the video, came to the classroom, and eventually called for Fields, the school resource officer.
Robinson said he could tell Fields was going to do something as soon as he arrived. He said Fields moved the girl’s laptop and then told another student to move a desk out of the way.
“I’ve never seen anything so nasty looking, so sick to the point that other students are turning away,” Robinson said. “They’re just scared for their lives. That’s supposed to be someone that’s going to protect us. Not somebody to be scared of.”
Students in the classroom sit, most in silence, as Long, the teacher, and administrator also watce. In a second angle of the video, Fields can be heard telling another student, “I’ll put you in jail next.” Watch that angle below:
Niya Kenny told WLTX-TV that Fields was yelling at her when she spoke up to defend her classmate.
“I was screaming ‘What the f, what the f is this really happening?’ I was praying out loud for the girl,” Kenny told the news station. “I just couldn’t believe this was happening I was just crying and he said, since you have so much to say you are coming too. I just put my hands behind my back.”
Kenny, 18, was charged with disturbing school, a misdemeanor, and released on $1,000 bail.
“I know this girl don’t got nobody and I couldn’t believe this was happening,” Kenny said. “I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl. 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.”
A third video, from yet another angle, was posted online by Reginald Seabrooks:
Seabrooks wrote in the video description on Youtube, “The officer in this is a cool dude,he is not Racist!!!. Girl was asked her to put the phone away,but told teacher no and Administrator was called and asked her to come to his office. She told him no,he then called the resource officer. When he got there he asked her nicely to get up.Over and over he did nothing wrong. They asked her to get up but she wanted to show off. To some it looks bad but she wanted to prove that she was bad.”
Fields was Seabrooks football coach at Spring Valley High School, his father told CNN.
A student in the classroom tweeted his eyewitness account of the video, saying “to be clear,” the girl was “sitting quietly at her desk,” and did not provoke the deputy before the video started. Aaron Johnson said “nobody even knew what she did,” and why he grabbed her.
Sheriff Leon Lott said the teacher and administrator both gave statements supporting Fields’ actions.
Johnson said, “When I asked (their teacher) Mr. Long if he felt bad for what happened to her … his reply was ‘she should have cooperated.'”
He added, “I think we were all in shock and afraid they would say something to us, he put another girl in handcuffs for standing up, like standing up for the girl.”
The video quickly went viral, with #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh trending worldwide on Twitter and Facebook.
The district told WLTX-TV in a statement, “We are aware of an incident that occurred today at Spring Valley High School. Video of it has been posted on social media. The incident is under investigation. We are working closely with the sheriff’s department.”
Lott said Tuesday he was “shocked” and “disturbed” by the video. An internal investigation is expected to be completed soon, possibly by Wednesday. Although he said he is focusing on the actions of his deputy, he stressed multiple times his claim that one of the videos shows the girl hitting the officer. In the videos, the girl can be seen pushing her arm, and possibly hitting, the officer, but only after he had already grabbed her by the neck and was starting to throw her to the ground. Her motions appear to be in self-defense.
Lott also said the girl does bear some responsibility.
“If she had not disrupted that school, disrupted that class, we would not be standing here today,” Lott said at a press conference.
The high school has about 2,000 students, according to the district’s website. Of those students, 52 percent are black and 30 percent are white.
The video has raised comparisons to an incident in McKinney, Texas, in June, when a police officer there violently arrested an unarmed black teen at a pool party. Eric Casebolt later resigned from the department. He is still facing an investigation. Read about that case at the link below:
2. He Is Accused of ‘Recklessly’ Targeting ‘African-American Students With Allegations of Gang Membership’
Deputy Ben Fields is facing a lawsuit in federal court accusing him of violating the civil rights of a student at Spring Valley High School. The student, Ashton James Reese, was expelled from the high school for “unlawful assembly of gang activity and assault and battery,” in 2013. He was accused of participating in a “gang related” fight in a Walmart parking lot near the school.
You can read the complaint above.
Fields, who did not respond to the fight, led the investigation, and described it as a “huge gang fight,” that was an attempt to unite three gangs at the school. He said Reese was identified as being in the video and being part of a gang. But Reese denies he is a gang member, according to the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Reese’s attorneys claim Fields, “recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity.”
A jury trial is scheduled to begin on January 27, 2016.
Fields was also sued in federal court in 2007 from his time as a patrol deputy. A jury eventually ruled in Fields’ favor. Read that complaint below:
In that lawsuit, Fields was accused of violating the civil rights of a man and woman at an apartment complex in Columbia. The plaintiff, Carlos Martin, says was driving his car near his home and saw a police officer driving his cruiser in the parking lot. He said he nodded to the officer “as a friendly gesture and greeting.”
Martin said shortly after he parked his car and was walking to his apartment. He says he then heard the officer, later identified as Fields, running toward him calling, “Hey you.” Fields asked for Martin’s license and registration and asked if he was the cause of excessive noise that a resident had complained about. Martin told Fields he wasn’t the source and had just got home from work.
“Deputy Fields became agitated when Plaintiff Carlos Martin, with absolutely no disrespect, addressed Deputy Fields using the colloquial term ‘dude,'” the lawsuit states. “Despite (Martin’s) attempts to assure the Deputy that he intended no disrespect, Deputy Fields nevertheless became increasingly angry. Deputy Fields’ unprovoked anger escalated to the point that he grabbed (Martin), slammed him to the ground, cuffed him, began kicking him, and chemically maced him until his clothing was drenched and the contents of the can of mace was depleted.”
According to the lawsuit, Fields later seized a cell phone from Martin’s wife, Tashiana Rogers, and never returned to her. He also arrested her. Rogers, who was then Martin’s wife, said she recorded the incident on video, and that’s why the phone was seized. The charges against both were later dropped when the prosecution failed to show up for court.
Fields, in his reply to the lawsuit, said Martin was playing excessively loud music from his vehicle, and he was going to cite him for that before Martin become boisterous and used profanity toward Fields. He said Martin pulled away when he tried to handcuff him, and then started kicking him, so he used force to arrest him.
Also, according to the lawsuit, Fields “made ridiculing and suggestive comments that he was going to take Plaintiff Tashiana Anita Martin to a Motel 6.” He denied that claim.
Carlos Martin, an Army veteran, spoke to the New York Daily News after Monday’s video went viral.
“He became even more violent because I didn’t react like most people would,” Martin told the Daily News.
Rogers, who is now divorced from Martin, also spoke to the newspaper, saying, “I felt like if he had felt the consequences from 2005, this wouldn’t happen today.”
3. Students Say They Saw Fields ‘Slam’ Students, Including a Pregnant Girl, for Years
Fields is the senior Richland County deputy sheriff assigned to Spring Valley High School as a school resource officer, according to the sheriff office’s website.
He supervises one other deputy at the school.
Former and current students flocked to Twitter to lodge their complaints about Fields.
One student says she saw Fields “slam” a pregnant student in 2012:
Parents in a group called the Richland 2 Black Parents Association told WIS-TV the video is “egregious and “unacceptable,” adding in a statement, “Parents are heartbroken as this is just another example of the intolerance that continues to be of issue in Richland School District Two particularly with families and children of color. As we have stated in the past, we stand ready to work in collaboration to address these horrible acts of violence and inequities among our children.”
The district said it is “deeply concerned” about the incident. “Student safety is and always will be the district’s top priority,” the school district’s statement said. “The district will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of our students.”
Columbia Mayor Steven Benjamin said in a statement, “Though this incident involved a Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy and not an officer with the Columbia Police Department, we cannot and will not accept this kind of behavior from any law enforcement officer and I firmly believe we need an independent investigation to get to the bottom of this incident and see that justice is done.”
4. Fields, Also a Football Coach & Power Lifter, Became a Cop 11 Years Ago After Junior College
According to his now-deleted Twitter account, Fields is also the defensive line and strength coach for the Spring Valley High School football team.
Fields became a coach in 2012, working with the defensive line, and added the strength coaching responsibilities a season later, the team’s website says. School district officials said at a press conference Tuesday that Fields is no longer coaching.
Videos posted on YouTube, which have now been removed, showed Fields weightlifting:
Fields said in during his deposition for a federal lawsuit filed against him that he is a competitive power lifter, saying it is a “sport,” where you “try to lift as much as you can at one time.”
In his deposition, Fields says he does not take steroids, but has not been tested for steroids in the past. He said he has taken supplements, including Creatin, to help build muscles.
Students said on Twitter they were afraid of Fields because of his stature:
Fields grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and graduated from a private Christian high school there in 2000. He then graduated with an associate’s degree from a junior college in Kansas and moved to Columbia, South Carolina, because his parents had relocated there, he says in the lawsuit deposition.
His father, Wayne Fields, is the president and CEO of the Oliver Gospel Mission in Columbia, where Ben Fields worked for one year before becoming a police officer.
He said he was encouraged to become a police officer by a deputy sheriff who taught at Midlands Tech, where Fields took three criminal justice classes.
Sheriff Leon Lott said Fields is dating an African-American woman. Lott has since faced criticism on social media from people who say dating a black woman does not absolve him of racism.
Lott has not responded to those complaints.
Read more about the sheriff at the link below:
5. He Received the ‘Culture of Excellence’ Award Earlier Last Year for Being a ‘Role Model’
Deputy Ben Fields was honored with the Richland School District Two Culture of Excellence Award in November 2014, according to the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s write-up about him winning the award says Fields has worked with the department since 2004 and became a school resource officer in 2008. He is also assigned to Lonnie B. Nelson Elementary School.
Fields, the sheriff says, “has proven to be an exceptional role model to the students he serves and protects.”