Spring Valley High School student resource officer Ben Fields, 34, who was seen in videos circulating online violently grabbing and dragging a student across a classroom, has been relieved of duty, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced today.
At a press conference this afternoon, Lott said an internal investigation by his office found that the tactics used by the school resource officer to arrest the student went against the department's training standards. "It's not what I expect from my deputies," he said.
"The maneuver that he used was not based on our training and was not acceptable," said Lott. "Our training unit looked at it and I have a full report from them. Their recommendation to me was the Deputy Fields did not follow proper training, did not follow procedure when he threw the student across the room…that is not a proper technique and should not be used in law enforcement."
And while Lott said the "disruptive student" instigated the incident, he also said that did not justify Fields' actions. He said the student was asked to leave the class first by a teacher and then a school administrator, who along with another student in the class gave statements to the department in support of Fields.
"They felt like everything he did was correct and he didn't use excessive force and that the student was the one that was combative and that what he did was correct. Even the physicial part," he said. "But again I'm the one that had problems with it. I'm the one that counts when it comes to his appointment."
Fields, the sheriff said, "did wrong."
On Monday, Fields was placed on administrative duty and then an unpaid suspension while an internal inquiry took place. The Justice Department and the FBI have also begun a civil rights investigation into the incident, at the sheriff's request.
The student in the video and another student who was filming the incident were arrested and then released, the Sheriff’s office said.
The lawyer for the student told Good Morning America today that she suffered several injuries during the classroom arrest, including arm, neck, and back injuries. The Sheriff said at a press conference yesterday that the student "may have had a rug burn" at most. He also said he didn't think race played a part in the incident, adding that Fields "has been dating an African American female" for some time.
As part of the internal review, Lott said the police department examined one video which shows the student reaching up and trying to punch Fields after he begins to grab her.
“It shows that when the officer puts his hands on her initially she reaches up and she pops the officer with her fist,” Lott said yesterday. “There’s no question of that, but does that justify the means, does that justify the end, and that’s what I have to look at.”
Fields has been sued in the past for his conduct on the job. In 2007, he was sued for allegedly using excessive force during an arrest; a jury found in his favor. In another case, which will go to trial in January, a former Spring Valley High School student alleges that Fields “unfairly and recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity.”