By Meg Kinnard
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
COLUMBIA, S.C. _ U.S. federal authorities said Tuesday they are investigating whether a deputy’s arrest of a student who refused to leave her high school math class violated federal civil rights laws. In recorded images posted on social media, the deputy can be seen flipping the girl backward in her desk and tossing her across the classroom floor.
Federal help was sought by Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who placed Senior Deputy Ben Fields on leave after the confrontation at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina.
“It’s very disturbing what happened today. It’s something I have to deal with and that’s what we’re going to be doing,” Lott said by telephone Monday.
The sheriff’s department said no one was hurt during the confrontation, which was captured on cellphones by several students and posted online. One student said it all started when the girl pulled out her cellphone and refused her math teacher’s request to hand it over during class.
During the moments captured on video, Fields can be seen standing over the girl, asking her to stand up. The girl remains seated and the officer wraps a forearm around her neck. The desk then flips and the girl is slammed backward onto the floor, where the officer tosses her toward the front of the classroom and handcuffs her.
A second student who verbally objected to the girl’s treatment also was arrested.
Both girls were charged with disturbing schools and released to their parents. Their names were not released, but the second student, Niya Kenny, told WLTX-TV that Deputy Fields’ use of force shocked her. Her mother, Doris Kenny, said she’s proud her daughter was “brave enough to speak out against what was going on.”
Lt. Curtis Wilson confirmed that Fields is white and the students are black, but told The Associated Press in an email to “keep in mind this is not a race issue.”
The district’s Black Parents Association denied this, saying the video “revealed what many African-American parents have experienced in this district for a very long time.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People planned an afternoon news conference to express community outrage. Jackson called the video a “national disgrace” that fits a pattern of unfair behaviour against blacks.
The officer has been accused of excessive force and racial bias before, but has prevailed in court so far.
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.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP