South Carolina

Sheriff asks FBI, U.S. Justice Department to investigate Columbia school resource officer incident

gflanagan@thestate.com

In this frame captured from a Tweeted video, Richland County Sheriff's senior deputy Ben Fields, a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School, can be seen pulling a student from her desk to the floor.
In this frame captured from a Tweeted video, Richland County Sheriff's senior deputy Ben Fields, a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School, can be seen pulling a student from her desk to the floor. twitter.com

The FBI and U.S. Department of Justice have agreed to investigate an incident between a school resource officer and a female student at Spring Valley High School which was caught on video Monday and posted online.

“The Columbia FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of South Carolina have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of a student at Spring Valley High School,” a Department of Justice spokesperson wrote in an email. “The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence in order to determine whether a federal law was violated. As this is an ongoing investigation, per Department of Justice policy we are unable to comment further at this time.”

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Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott placed a call to Dave Thomas, special agent in charge for the FBI for South Carolina, on Monday to ask for an independent investigation, according to a media release from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.

Tuesday morning, the sheriff followed up with a formal written request to Thomas and U.S. Attorney William Nettles for the U.S. Justice Department and FBI to conduct a formal investigation.

The video shows Senior Deputy Ben Fields approach the female student seated in a desk. The resource officer proceeds to place his left hand on the female student’s left arm, before putting his right arm around her neck.

Fields then flips the desk over, with the student still seated, before spinning it around and forcibly removing the student and trying to restrain her at the front of the classroom.

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That teen and another female student were arrested for disturbing the peace, sheriff’s department spokesman Lt. Curtis Wilson said Sunday morning.

Fields has been placed on administrative duties pending the investigation’s results, according to Wilson.

S.C. Sen. and former Spring Valley student Joel Lourie (D-Richland) released a statement by email, expressing sympathy for the student and her family.

“I have watched with horror the disturbing video from Spring Valley High School today,” Lourie said Monday. “As the father of two children, including a daughter, my thoughts and prayers are with the young lady, her family and the entire Richland 2 community who are all severely hurting right now. I cannot imagine what could have led to such a violent response from the law enforcement officer. I am confident that both the school district and the sheriff’s department will do a quick but thorough investigation to bring us all the facts and take the appropriate action necessary.”

Fields has been with the sheriff’s department since 2004, according to a media release. He joined the school resource officer program in 2008, and in 2014 he received the Richland School District 2 Culture of Excellence Award.

Fields served as a school resource officer with the Lonnie B. Nelson Elementary School, as well as Spring Valley High School, according to the release.

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