Officer who dragged teen across South Carolina classroom fired

Richland County sheriff says Deputy Sheriff Ben Fields’ actions were ‘not based on training’

Ben Fields

The police officer caught on video flipping a female teen student backward in her desk and tossing her across a South Carolina classroom has been fired, it was announced Wednesday. 

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott told reporters that the officer, Deputy Sheriff Ben Fields was terminated, saying the "maneuver that he used was not based on training or acceptable."

"From the very beginning, that’s what caused me to be upset when I first saw that video — and continues to upset me when I see that video — is the fact the he picked the student up and he threw the student across the room," he said.  

"Deputy Ben Fields did wrong this past Monday," Lott said. "We have moved quickly in this, and we have done the right thing in our actions in terminating him."

Lott said that he would not describe Fields as remorseful but that the officer was sorry the incident happened and tried to do his job.

The student was being disruptive and refused to leave the classroom despite being told by a teacher and administrator to do so, Lott said, and that's when Fields was brought to remove her from the class. She again refused, and he told her she was under arrest, Lott said.

She continued to refuse, and videos show Fields flipping the teen backward while still in her seat and then throwing her across the room. In doing so, Lott said, Fields did not use proper procedure. Lott added that the student involved, who has not been publicly named, was disruptive and disrespectful but that "what she did does not justify what our deputy did."

Earlier Wednesday, Todd Rutherford, the girl's lawyer, said she suffered several injuries during her arrest, contradicting previous reports that she wasn’t hurt during the incident.

"She now has a cast on her arm. She has neck and back injuries. She has a Band-Aid on her forehead where she suffered rug burn on her forehead," he told ABC's "Good Morning America."

Rutherford told the network that Fields should have been fired as soon as Lott saw video of the incident, which was recorded by several students at Spring Valley High School in Columbia.

Lott said Tuesday that the girl was uninjured in the confrontation but "may have had a rug burn."

Videos taken by classmates and posted online show Fields warning the girl to leave her seat or be forcibly removed after she apparently texted in class and refused to surrender her phone to the teacher. When she doesn't get up from her desk, the officer wraps a forearm around her neck, flips her and the desk backward onto the floor, tosses her toward the front of the classroom and handcuffs her.

The sheriff suspended Fields without pay Monday. Lott, who rushed home from an out-of-town conference when the news broke, said that a teacher and vice principal in the classroom at the time felt Fields acted appropriately.

Lott said the video made him want to "throw up." But he also pointed out that the girl could be seen in a video trying to strike Fields. Lott added, however, that he is focused on the deputy's actions, not the student's.

On Tuesday the FBI and the Justice Department opened a civil rights probe into the arrest to determine if any federal law was broken. 

The girl did not appear to resist or argue with the officer in one video recorded by a student. She has since been charged with disturbing school and was released to her parents. Another female student in the class was also charged in the incident; she has not been publicly identified by authorities.

In a longer video recorded in the classroom, Fields can be heard telling another student who was expressing dismay over the situation, "Hey, I'll put you in jail next."

It emerged Tuesday that Fields was previously sued and accused of using excessive force and targeting black people.

In 2013 a student expelled from Spring Valley High School accused Fields, who is white, of targeting black students and accusing them of being gang members. That case is set to go to trial in January.

In 2010, federal court records show, a jury sided with Fields after a black couple accused him of excessive force and battery during a 2005 noise complaint arrest in Columbia.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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