COLUMBIA, SC — An investigation is underway following a confrontation between a student and resource officer at a Columbia-area high school.
The incident happened on Monday, October 26 at Spring Valley High School. In the confrontation caught on tape, you can see the officer, later identified as Sr. Deputy Ben Fields, grab a female student from her desk, and then drag her toward the front of the room when he tells her to put her hands behind her back.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says a disruptive student refused to leave after the teacher asked her to. We’re told an administrator was called and asked the student to leave, when she refused a school resource officer was called. When the student again refused, the Sheriff says the officer forcefully removed the student as she resisted arrest.
Richland School District Two Superintendent Dr. Debbie Hamm issued a statement:
Our District is deeply concerned about an incident that occurred at Spring Valley High School today. The incident took place between a school resource officer employed by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and a student. Video of the incident is circulating on social media.
Student safety is and always will be the District’s top priority. The District will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of our students.
Upon learning of the incident, school and district administrators began an investigation. We are working closely and in full cooperation with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.
Pending the outcome of the investigation, the District has directed that the school resource officer not return to any school in the District.
Richland County Sheriff’s Lt. Curtis Wilson says Sr. Deputy Ben Fields will be placed on administrative duties.
State Superintendent of Education Molly M. Spearman issued the following statement after viewing videos and speaking with local, state, and federal authorities:
I am greatly concerned by these videos,” said Spearman. “The safety of our students is always our number one priority. School districts contract with hundreds of dedicated school resource officers who work hard to protect our students across South Carolina. However, these videos and what they appear to show should concern all of us in public education. While it is vital that students have respect for law enforcement, it is equally important that law enforcement ensure they do not abuse the power and trust school districts instill in them.
I am pleased that Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has moved quickly to place the officer on unpaid leave and initiate a thorough investigation of the officer involved, by reaching out to both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice. Richland School District Two’s Superintendent Dr. Debbie Hamm has acted swiftly to ensure that pending the result of the investigation, the officer will not be working within any of the district’s schools. This matter must be investigated thoroughly and appropriate action taken.
The South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus also issued a statement:
The South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus commends Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott for calling for an independent investigation into the recent incident at Spring Valley High School. We agree with his actions to remove Senior Deputy Ben Fields from duty at the school. It is our hope Sheriff Lott quickly will come to realize Mr. Fields has no place whatsoever in law enforcement in Richland County or the State of South Carolina. Mr. Fields’ actions are inexcusable, regardless of what led to the interaction captured on video and circulating on social media.
If Mr. Fields so brazenly used excessive force during the day amid a room full of witnesses, we shudder to think what he is capable of during a routine traffic stop on an isolated road under the cover of darkness. We also have concerns about the actions of the teacher and school officials who appear all too willing to criminalize the actions of possibly a temperamental teenager.
We pray for healing for the female student – as well as for her classmates – who may be traumatized by the brutal actions of this school resource officer, someone sworn to protect them from harm.
With all the state and national attention on policing methods for more than a year now, it is surprising to see these types of incidents occurring in our communities. The South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus remains committed to seeking remedies to ensure fair and equitable policing policies throughout our state.