Sheriff Says Third Video Shows South Carolina Student Punching Officer

“I wanted to throw up,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Tuesday after viewing his deputy's actions. “It just makes you sick to your stomach.”

A third video captured Monday as a school resource officer threw a South Carolina high school student out of her desk and dragged her on the classroom floor showed the girl punching the deputy in the face, officials said.

The video recorded by another student in the classroom "showed her striking and punching at the officer" as he attempted to remove the girl from the classroom, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.

Lott said videos of the confrontation have helped in the investigation into the incident, but warned that they merely present a "snapshot" of what happened.

"Does that justify the means?" Lott said. "That's what I have to look at."

School and police officials blasted Senior Deputy Ben Fields for the incident, calling his actions "reprehensible" and "unforgivable."

"I wanted to throw up," Lott said after viewing his deputy's actions. "It just makes you sick to your stomach."

The Department of Justice said Tuesday it was opening a civil rights investigation into the incident at Spring Valley High School. Meanwhile, Lott said an internal investigation into whether the officer followed training and procedure would be completed by Wednesday.

"At that point, I'll make my decision if the deputy will continue to be employed here," Lott said.

The sheriff would not discuss the deputy's actions or what his decision would be, but said that he was disturbed by the video and told reporters, "you should be able to read between the lines with that."

The internal review, however, will be focused on the deputy's actions and his decision to use force, Lott said.

School board chair James Manning said that as a result of the incident, "we are going to ... refine our training of our school district personnel" and change "screening and training" of the officers, who are employed by the Richland County Sheriff's Office.

The school will also implement “a diversity task force,” he said.

Fields has been suspended without pay during the investigation and Lott said Tuesday he has filed a request to permanently ban the officer from district grounds.

At the press conference, Lott said he did not know if race was a component of the confrontation, and said Fields had been dating an African-American woman for "some time."

Investigators have also interviewed witnesses of the altercation, including students and the teacher and administrator who interacted with the student before the deputy arrived. Both of them, Lott said, gave statements in support of the officer.

Lott also criticized a South Carolina law that allows students to be arrested for disturbing a class, a law that he said puts law enforcement in the middle of teachers and students in disciplinary matters.

"I didn't pass the law," Lott said. "It's something that's been put on us, and I'll be one of the first ones to say that it's been abused in the past."

Debbie Hamm, superintendent of Richland School District 2, said that in nearly 40 years working in the school district, the altercation was “one of the most upsetting incidents I’ve ever experienced.”

She added that the school has separate protocols for how officers handle disciplinary incidents and criminal activity.

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