Ben Fields Fired
The white sheriff’s deputy who is under federal investigation after he was caught on video flipping a black high school student out of her classroom chair in South Carolina was fired on Wednesday for violating department policy.
Deputy Ben Fields went too far when he picked up the 16-year-old and hurtled her across a classroom before arresting her, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott told a news conference.
“That is not a proper technique and should not be used by law enforcement,” Lott said.
Shocking Video of a South Carolina sheriff’s deputy manhandling a black student in a high school classroom has prompted an investigation by local authorities after the footage was widely circulated on Monday.
The footage shows a school monitor reported to be Ben Fields – who is also a Richland county sheriff’s deputy – confronting the female student.
When the young girl refuses to leave her seat in a classroom at Spring Valley high school, he tells her: “I’ll make you.” He then wraps his arm around her neck, flips her desk backward, then drags her across the floor. He arrested both the girl, and a male student.
The sheriff’s department has placed Fields on administrative leave while it investigates the case.
A spokeswoman for the school district, Libby Roof, said on Monday night that the administration was “deeply concerned”. “We are investigating it, along with the sheriff’s office,” she said.
A spokesman for the sheriffs department did not immediately respond to our requests for comment.
The video only lasts a few seconds but reflects an eruption of tension that has built in Richland County School District Two over several years. The school system was predominantly white 10 years ago, but after a rapid demographic reversal is now three-quarters black.
“It’s crazy, man,” said Stephen Gilchrist, a business owner and father of three boys who is a founding member of the Richland Two Black Parents Association. The group formed a year ago with a dozen or so members and now has 5,700 on its rolls.
“We formed because it was so obvious the white parents were getting the best access and opportunities. But we are a community of black parents who want to get involved,” Gilchrist said. “The problem is widespread.”
Fields has a history of alleged aggression during arrests. According to federal court papers a man named Carlos Martin sued Fields for pepper spraying him and roughing up his wife after he pulled his car into a parking lot playing loud music. The suit ended in Fields’s favor.
In a second federal suit a high school student named Ashton James Reese is suing Fields for allegedly falsely accusing him of being in a gang. In court papers Reese’s attorney claims Fields “recklessly targets African American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity”. That suit is pending.
The speed of demographic change in the school system surprised the entire community – parents, administrators, voters – and led to conflict among black and white groups. After the formation of Richland Two Black Parents Association, another group sprang up, which Gilchrist said is commonly known as the Bipartisan White Citizens Committee, although the local newspaper uses the name “Bipartisan Committee”.
A year ago a member of the committee, George Shissias, spoke to the State newspaper ahead of a school board election in which the board shifted from mostly black to mostly white.
“I think it’s the last stand for a good school district,” he said. “You will have people who will leave for other jobs. They will bully them and threaten them.” His wife, former South Carolina state representative June Shissias, is also on the committee.
Two months ago the school district formed a new administrative position: chief diversity and multicultural inclusion officer. It hired attorney Helen Grant with a role she described on Monday night as “making sure everyone is included and that the school workers look at least somewhat like the students”.
She said she had met with members of the Black Parents Association and had heard of the White Citizens Committee but had not met with its representatives.
Roof, the school district spokeswoman, said: “In the past there have been some issues but I believe that any parent with concerns can bring it to the administration and be heard.”