A school resource officer has been placed on administrative leave following an incident in Columbia, S.C., that was captured on video and circulated on social media sites.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — In the wake of the video that surfaced of a South Carolina classroom where a school resource officer could be seen forcibly pulling a student out of her chair, the FBI and the Department of Justice have opened an investigation into the matter.
On Tuesday, a day after the incident, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Justice Department to conduct an investigation of Monday’s incident at Spring Valley High School.
Lott, whose agency is in charge of the school resource program at the school, was in Chicago at a law enforcement meeting when the incident took place. He said he was disturbed by what he saw, and said he cut short his trip, and is returning to Columbia to get answers.
The school resource officer, Deputy Ben Fields, has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation.
In a statement Tuesday, the Department of Justice 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.”
In a statement Tuesday, Lott said: “I have spoken with the FBI and U.S. Attorney (for the District of South Carolina) William Nettles today as I travel back from Chicago. Their investigation has begun.”
Lott also said that the FBI will be the lead agency in the criminal investigation.
“We do not want any issues with the community or those involved having questions concerning conflicts of interest in this investigation. (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) has been requested by the school board of Richland 2 and individual legislators to also look into the matter. Solicitor (Dan) Johnson and I have no issues with (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) assisting the FBI and U.S. Attorney. A complete and thorough investigation is what we both want, as well as the public.”
One of the students who videotaped the incident said he and other students in the classroom Monday were scared as the incident played out.
Tony Robinson Jr., a student at Spring Valley High School, captured video that shows the officer forcibly removing a female student from her chair, dragging her several feet, then handcuffing her.
“It was definitely a scary experience,” he said.
Robinson says he went into the morning thinking it would be a normal, routine day of school. He was in math class, and he and his classmates were working on their assignments.
Around 10:30 a.m., the girl who had the confrontation with the officer was working on her computer, and had her phone out, Robinson said. He said the teacher asked her for her phone, but she said no. An administrator was then called to the room, and Robinson said the administrator pleaded with the girl to get out of her seat, but she didn’t.
A student who captured video of a South Carolina deputy roughing up a female classmate says he was sickened and scared for his life.
“She really hadn’t done anything wrong,” Robinson said. “She said that she had took her phone out, but it was only for a quick second.”
While she didn’t comply, Robinson said the girl was apologetic.
Then Fields, was called to the class. Robinson said when Fields came in, he asked Robinson’s friend to move a desk. According to the student, Fields then shut the girl’s computer, and moved it to another desk.
Robinson felt something was wrong, and pulled out his phone and began recording.
“When I saw what was about to happen my immediate first thing to think is let me get this on camera. This is going to be something that not only I’m going to be like ‘wow did this really happened at my class,’ but just something that everybody else needs to see. This is something that we can’t let this just pass by.”
Robinson said the officer then began speaking with the student.
“He asked her again, ‘will you move, will you move.’ She said ‘no I have not done anything wrong.’ Then he said I’m going to treat you fairly. And she said ‘I don’t even know who you are.’ … And that is where it started right there.”
Moments later, things turned physical.
“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,” Robinson said. “That’s supposed to be somebody that’s going to protect us. Not somebody that we need to be scared of, or afraid.
“That was wrong. There was no justifiable reason for why he did that to that girl.”
The girl was charged with disturbing schools, and was released to the custody of her parents.
Another female student in the class also was charged with disturbing schools.
Niya Kenny, 18, said she was the other student charged. She said she was standing up for her classmate.
“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. I’m talking about she’s like 5’6″.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he agrees federal authorities should investigate, and that he planned to visit Columbia himself Tuesday to get more information. He called the video a “national disgrace” and said it is part of a pattern of unfair behavior against blacks.
“This man should be arrested, charged, fired and sued,” said Jackson. “The department should be sued.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said, “We need an independent investigation to get to the bottom of this incident and see that justice is done.”
Fields has been accused before of excessive force and racial bias, but has so far prevailed in court. Trial is set for January in the case of an expelled student who claims Fields targeted black students and falsely accused him of being a gang member in 2013.
In another case, a federal jury sided with Fields after a black couple accused him of excessive force and battery during a noise complaint arrest in 2005. A third lawsuit, dismissed in 2009, involved a woman who accused him of battery and violating her rights during a 2006 arrest.
Contributing: The Associated Press.
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