COLUMBIA, SC (WBTW) – The Richland County Sheriff’s deputy who’s gotten international attention for pulling a female student out of her desk and throwing her across the room has been fired. Sheriff Leon Lott announced Wednesday afternoon that he had investigated the incident and had terminated School Resource Officer Ben Fields for violating department training and procedures.
The incident happened Monday at Spring Valley High School in Columbia. The student was in a math class and was using her phone, which is against the rules during class. The teacher told her to leave the class and she refused. The teacher then called an administrator to the classroom, who also told the student she needed to leave the classroom. She refused again, so they called the school resource officer.
In video shot by other students in the class, SRO Ben Fields asked the student to get up and she refused again. He then grabbed her with one arm and put his other arm around her neck. The girl then tried to punch Fields in the head. Fields tried to pull her out of the desk, but the desk fell backwards with the student still in it. He then grabbed her by the leg, pulled her out of the desk and threw her across the floor to the front of the room, where he then pulled her hands behind her to handcuff her.
Sheriff Lott said Wednesday that he had his training unit review what happened. “Their recommendation to me was that Deputy Fields did not follow proper training, did not follow proper procedure when he threw the student across the room. From the very beginning, that’s what’s caused me to be upset, when I first saw that video, and continues to upset me when I see that video, is the fact that he picked the student up and he threw the student across the room. That is not a proper technique and should not be used in law enforcement. And based on that, that was a violation of our policy.
He said he looked only at whether to fire Deputy Fields, not whether he should face any criminal charges. He says those would have to come from the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which are investigating.
One question a lot of people who’ve seen the video have is, what should the deputy have done, once the student refused to leave her seat? Sheriff Lott says, “You try to use verbal commands and you try to do it verbally. You try to de-escalate the situation, instead of escalate it. And then when you do have to put your hands on someone, there’s techniques that we’re taught. There’s pressure points. There’s other things that you use. It’s called, ‘pain compliance.’ And throwing someone across the room is not ‘pain compliance,’ and that’s not something that we teach.”
He said he’ll be talking with the school district about the role of school resource officers and when they’re being called to step into situations.
University of South Carolina criminology professor Geoff Alpert is also a member of the sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Council. He says this incident should be a learning opportunity.
“Here we have a non-violent, very disruptive student,” he says. “And I don’t know the policies for the SROs. I don’t know where they get involved, but certainly it’s something we need to learn from. We need to figure out, is that a policy that needs to be revisited? When should a police officer come in, and what action should a police officer take? We call it officer-created jeopardy.”
Sheriff Lott says he had not heard any complaints before this incident about Deputy Fields being violent, although some students have said he had a reputation and was nicknamed “Officer Slam.”
Sheriff Lott says, “He’s been at that school for seven years. He’s highly respected as a School Resource Officer. They wanted him at Spring Valley. He has tremendous support from the faculty and staff at Spring Valley and from students. Of course, when something like this happens, you do have people that’s going to come up and say things they’ve never said before.”
Fields has not commented, but Wednesday released a statement through his attorney, Scott Hayes.
“First and foremost, Mr. Ben Fields would like to acknowledge and personally thank all of those who have offered their support of his actions during Monday’s incident that occurred at Spring Valley High School. The Positive response and heartfelt support of Ben has been overwhelming.”
“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.”
“Mr. Fields welcomes the opportunity to address the particulars at the appropriate time. However, since this matter is presently under investigation with federal authorities, he is respectfully declining to make a statement at this time.”
“Until such time, there will be no further public comments from Mr. Fields or on his behalf.”