Elected officials from South Carolina are calling the video of a South Carolina school resource officer picking up a student and throwing her out of her chair “disturbing” and “troubling” while supporting investigations into the matter.
“When I first saw the video, immediately, my jaw just dropped,” Richland County Councilman Damon Jeter told BuzzFeed News. “To see a deputy sheriff act in that manner is just completely awful.”
Richland County Sheriff’s deputy Ben Fields was called to a Spring Valley High School classroom after a student was being disruptive and refused to leave.
In the video, Fields walks over to the student, grabs her, and flips her onto the ground. He then picks her up and throws her. He has since been put on administrative leave.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin told MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts on Tuesday that "We’re hearing the potential injuries this child facing, this is possibly deadly force. It’s not acceptable."
"It's important that we understand that our officers can't do the jobs that they need to do to keep us safe if they don't have community trust, and this type of activity completely erodes that trust and we have to see an end to it swiftly and immediately,” he said.
“The amount of force used on a female student by a male officer appears to me to be excessive and unnecessary,” James Manning the chair of District Two School Board said in a statement. “As the parent of a daughter in Richland School District Two I can assure you that we are taking this matter very seriously.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Senator Tim Scott said the video is “troubling.”
“After speaking with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott last night, I am glad that he has taken quick action to diffuse a potentially volatile situation by placing the officer on administrative leave and requesting an independent investigation,” Scott said in the statement. “The safety and wellbeing of our students is vital and we must continue our efforts to improve the relationship between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”
Even though the video begins recording once Fields grabs the girl, Jeter said that no matter what the girl — identified as a junior or senior — said or did, his behavior was unwarranted.
“Regardless of whatever verbal confrontation took place before the video started recording, I just can’t image a man in uniform going to that drastic measure to put someone under custody,” Jeter said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Jeter, a former school board commissioner, said that when the school resource officer program first began, “it seemed like the right thing to do.”
“The officers were not only there to protect students from the outside, but to protect and build a bond with everyone in the building,” Jeter said, adding that while he hasn’t heard of any similar incidents in the past, he believes more might come to light as teachers and parents start to speak out.
Following calls Sheriff Leon Lott made to the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, the DOJ announced it had launched an investigation into the incident.
“Because of the nature of the incident involving a youth, we really do need some sort of independent investigation,” Jeter said.
The justice department released the following statement:
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. 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.
Rev. Jesse Jackson told the Associated Press Tuesday that the officer should face charges and lose his job, calling the incident a “national disgrace.” Jackson, who is set to visit Columbia on Tuesday, told the AP that the incident represented a pattern of unfair behavior against blacks.
“You’re supposed to follow the commands of a man in uniform, but this is uncalled for,” Jeter said. “There’s no doubt in my mind the officer’s reaction to the whole situation was just wrong.”