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Classroom Video Subject of Concern, Debate in SC as Investigations Begin

A video from a Columbia, SC, high school has gone viral, and it’s a hard one to watch. It all started Monday when a black student at Spring Valley High School was asked to get up and leave her math class after both her teacher and the assistant principal asked her to stop disruptive behavior—texting on her phone. 

And according to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, using inappropriate language.

The school’s resource officer Ben Fields was called in. Again the student is asked to get up. And when she doesn’t, this happens:


Officer Fields grabs the student, flips her chair over while she’s still in it and then drags her forward. She’s then arrested.

The incident was the focus of press conferences and a school board meeting last night. WFAE’s Sarah Delia reports from Columbia.

Late Tuesday a very tired Sheriff Leon Lott stood before reporters. He was at a conference when he first got word of the video and had to quickly return to assess the actions of Deputy Ben Fields.

Lott said viewing the video was like a punch to the gut. 

He stopped short of completely condemning Fields. Lott said he hoped to have an internal investigation complete sometime Wednesday. Based on those findings, he’ll determine whether Fields who is also a football coach at Spring Valley High, will remain a Deputy.  Fields is currently suspended without pay.

Lott says investigators are looking at additional videos taken by students.

Lott says that video shows the student striking the officer. But he says, he’s most concerned with how Officer Fields handled the situation.

"Even though she was wrong for disturbing the class...I’m looking at what the deputy did," said Lott.

Erma Shell has a 17-year-old daughter at Spring Valley High. She attended last night’s meeting for the school board of Richland School District 2. She said the young lady shouldn't have disobeyed school staff and the officer, but that the officer's actions were too violent.

It was packed with media, district employees and a lot of upset people.

There was a smaller group that came to the defense of officer Fields whose supporters include the teacher and assistant principal who were in the room at the time of the incident.

After almost two hour of listening, school board members had their turn to speak. Board member Chip Jackson stated that if Fields was found guilty, he wanted Fields to receive the maximum penalty. 

Many board members echoed the concerns of parents. This is yet another hit to the state’s reputation after a summer that’s included the shooting massacre in Charleston and the April  shooting death of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot and killed by a white police officer.

Tuesday night was time to feel heard, not to get answers. The FBI is also conducting its own investigation at the request of Sheriff Lott. He said it’s important the public has confidence that authorities are doing all they can to get to get those answers.

UPDATE: Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says Ben Fields has been fired because he violated department policy.  

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.