Officer Caught On Video Throwing High School Student Won't Face Civil Rights Charges

The Justice Department said there was "insufficient evidence to pursue federal civil rights charges."

A South Carolina school resource officer who was caught on video throwing a high school student won’t face federal civil rights charges.

The Justice Department announced Friday, Jan. 13, that there was insufficient evidence to bring civil rights charges against officer Benjamin Fields who was seen on a video appearing to pick up a student and throw her out of her chair in the middle of a class.

“This decision is limited strictly to an application of the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statute; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of the incident involving Fields and the Spring Valley High School student,” the DOJ said in a statement.

The video was taken Monday at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, the Richland County Sheriff's Department confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

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Lt. Curtis Wilson, a spokesman for the department, identified the Richland County Sheriff's deputy in the video as Ben Fields, who is assigned as one of the school's resource officers. The girl is a junior or senior student at the school.

Wilson said the department was investigating what led up to the incident, as well as the deputy's actions.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that federal authorities had opened a civil rights investigation.

"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 statement read. "The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence in order to determine whether a federal law was violated."

Fields was called to the classroom after a student was being disruptive and refused to leave after being asked to do so by a teacher and vice principal, Wilson said. She and a male student were ultimately removed from the school.

The male student was detained, and the girl was released to her parents, Wilson said. No injuries were reported, he added.

Wilson said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who is currently out of town, was "very disturbed" by what he saw in the video. Wilson said the video was one part of the sheriff's department investigation.

"He has questions ... and wants answers to those questions," Wilson said.

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.

Aisha Thomas, who posted the video to Facebook, said she first saw the footage on Instagram. It has since gotten thousands of shares.

Tony Robinson, Jr., who recorded a longer version of the incident that day, told CBS News that he had "never seen anything so nasty looking, so sick to the point that you know, other students are turning away, don't know what to do, and are just scared for their lives."

Robinson added, "There was no justifiable reason for why he did that to that girl."

Niya Kenny, the other student who was detained for attempting to intervene with her classmate's arrest, told WLTX 19 that she "was screaming 'What the f, what the f is this really happening?'"

Kenny said she prayed out loud for the girl, who has yet to be identified.

Kenny's mother Doris said her daughter was "brave enough to speak out against what was going on and didn't back down and it resulted in her being arrested."

"But looking at the video, who was really disturbing schools?," she asked. "Was it my daughter or the officer who came in to the classroom and did that to the young girl?"

BuzzFeed News has reached out to the FBI and the DOJ for more information.

In the video, the officer walks over to the student, grabs her, and flips her onto the ground.

He then picks her up and throws her.

The other students watch silently as the officer pins the student's arms behind her back.

Fields joined the sheriff's department in 2004 and became a school resource officer in 2008. He is also the school football team's defensive line coach and strength and conditioning coordinator.

Fields was assigned to a district elementary school as well as the high school, and last year he was described as an "exceptional role model" to students, the Northeast News reported.

The district's superintendent, Debbie Hamm, said in a statement that school officials were "deeply concerned" about the video and that student safety was a top priority.

"The district will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of our students," Hamm said.

School officials were working with the sheriff's department to complete the investigation into the incident, she added.

James Manning, the chair of District Two School Board, called the video "extremely disturbing."

"The amount of force used on a female student by a male officer appears to me to be excessive and unnecessary," he 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."

He added that Fields has been banned from all District Two property.

Fields has twice been named in lawsuits related to his work.

In 2007, a resident of an apartment complex accused him of becoming angry while investigating a noise complaint. Carlos Martin said Fields slammed him to the ground, cuffed him, kicked him, and sprayed a can of mace on him. His wife, Tashiana Anita Martin, took photos during the encounter and claimed that Fields directed another officer to confiscate her camera phone.

A jury in 2010, however, ruled in favor of Fields.

In 2013, a student at Spring Valley High School filed a lawsuit related to his expulsion. Ashton James Reese claimed Fields identified him as a gang member who had been involved in a fight that involved a number of students. Reese denied he was a gang member and claimed Fields didn't fairly show proof of the accusations.

In his lawsuit, he claims Fields "unfairly and recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity."

A trial is scheduled for January.

Spring Valley High School has a little more than 2,000 students, 52% of whom are black and 30% white.