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Officer Who Threw Student Was Not Trained To Use "Defensive Tactics" In Schools

The 40-hour training class for Ben Fields to become a School Resource Officer did not involve protocols to physically restrain students, an instructor told BuzzFeed News.

Posted on October 27, 2015, at 5:31 p.m. ET

Officer Ben Fields was not taught to use defensive tactics, including physical restraint, in his training to be a school resource officer, an instructor at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy told BuzzFeed News.

Fields is on unpaid suspension as federal authorities conduct a civil rights investigation into a video that shows him picking up a student and throwing her out of her chair in the middle of a class at the Spring Valley High School.

Fields, 34, is a School Resource Officer (SRO) for Spring Valley High School. SROs are trained be liaisons between schools, communities and law enforcement. In 2010, Fields underwent a 40-hour training class to be an SRO at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, instructor Florence McCants told BuzzFeed News.

"We don't teach defensive tactics during this course," McCants said. By the time police officers get to the SRO level, they would have already learned defensive tactics as part of their basic law enforcement training, she said.

The SRO class that Fields attended involves teaching officers problem-solving techniques, McCants said.

While refusing to comment on whether Fields followed protocol while throwing the student before arresting her, McCants said SROs would typically get physical if "it gets to the point where children are fighting."

On Tuesday, Sheriff Leon Lott said that a third video showed the student "hitting the SRO with her fists and striking him." Still, he said, that's "not what i’m looking at" in his investigation, which will determine if Fields broke protocol. He said he expects to make a determination by Wednesday.

"[SROs are] dealing with students, they're trained how to deal with students...and how to build a positive relationship," Lott said. He said the SROs should be a "friend to these students."

McCants said that the response of SROs would differ on a case by case basis and there were "no specific rules" that applied to every situation.

"We encourage communication to get [students'] compliance, but if they are resistant, SROs have to apply certain techniques," she said, adding that it depended on the officer's judgement in each case.

SROs are primarily meant to "keep peace and order within the school," according to McCants.

"The SRO is neither a disciplinarian nor a hall monitor for the school;
these jobs remain with the principal and the faculty," reads the 2015-16 student and parents' handbook by the Richland County School District 1.

Richland County School District 2, which Spring Valley High School is part of, claims to be one of the first districts to employ School Resource Officers.

"And we are the only district in the state to have a full-time staff of more than 20 district security officers that work 24/7 shifts, 365 days a year," according to the school district handbook.

The county has 87 SROs, the "largest in the state," Lott said. The program has been in place for at least 19 years. Officers are picked for the program and move through the system at the discretion of the sheriff and the schools.

"Most discipline problems can be resolved by the teacher, student and parent in a calm and reasonable manner," the Richland County School District 2 handbook reads. "However, in cases where the student’s behavior affects the safety or learning opportunities of other students, additional disciplinary action must be taken."

“I have some concerns about officers being [in classrooms] our responsibility to go in there and remove that student?" Lott said. "Or the teacher and administrators?”

“Should the officer have been called to get that our job or school’s job?” Lott asked.

McCants said that an SROs' authority can supersede that of the school principal or faculty when the student is involved in a criminal matter, such as possession of drugs or weapons.

The Richland County School District and the Richland County Sheriff's Department did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.