Here’s the latest in a depressing series of filmed violent encounters between cops and black teens: In the video, a Columbia, South Carolina, “resource officer” approaches a female Spring Valley High School student sitting at her desk. She was reportedly not participating in class on Monday morning and refused to leave the room.
After telling the girl to get up “or I’ll make you,” the officer — identified by the New York Daily News as Richland County sheriff’s deputy Ben Fields, one of the two officers who works at the school — yanks her wrist, wraps his arm around her neck, and flips her (and her desk) onto the ground. Fields then drags her out of the overturned desk, throws her across the room, and jumps on top of her while instructing her to put her hands behind her back.
Here’s a longer video of the incident, which ends with Fields telling the other kids in the class, “I’ll put you in jail next.” Student Tony Robinson Jr. filmed the video and told WTLX, “I’ve 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. That’s supposed to be somebody that’s going to protect us. Not somebody that we need to be scared of or afraid.”
School officials and the Richland County Police Department are now investigating the confrontation, and hope to release their findings by Wednesday. The FBI is also starting an investigation, and the Justice Department is opening a civil-rights inquiry into the incident. Fields is on unpaid administrative leave and will be barred from the school until the investigation is over.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Richland County sheriff Leon Lott said, according to The Wall Street Journal, that he did not believe that race had anything to do with the officer’s actions as Fields has “been dating an African-American female for quite some time now. Does that have a bearing on his thought process? It may have … but in a positive way, not a negative way … I would hope that race played no part in this whatsoever. That’s important to me and that’s important to this department.”
According to Lott, there is another video that shows the student “hitting” the officer “with her fists and striking him.” However, the official investigation won’t dwell too much on this detail, he said, because of the officer’s response. “Even though she was wrong for disturbing the class, even though she refused to abide by the directions of the teacher,” Lott said, according to the New York Times, “the school administrator and also the verbal commands of our deputy, I’m looking at what our deputy did.”
Fields has “a history of roughing up students,” according to the Daily News, and was once sued for allegedly pepper-spraying and beating a man because he was playing his music too loudly. CNN reports that Fields is also one of ten defendants in a lawsuit filed by a former Spring Valley student who was expelled in 2013. According to the New York Times, the former student accused Fields of “unfairly and recklessly [targeting] African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity.” Also: “On his now-deleted Twitter page, he described himself as football coach for the school’s defensive line, and a strength coach.”
Eighteen-year-old Niya Kenny, who was arrested after standing up to protest the violence happening during her math class, told WLTX, “I was crying, screaming and crying like a baby … I know this girl don’t got nobody, and I couldn’t believe this was happening. I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl. A big man, like 300 pounds of full muscle. I was like, ‘No way, no way.’ You can’t do nothing like that to a little girl. I’m talking about she’s like 5’6.”
The school-board chair also released a statement. “I have watched the video several times and there is no doubt that the video is extremely disturbing. … As the parent of a daughter in Richland School District Two I can assure you that we are taking this matter very seriously.”
Around 27,000 students go to school in the district; a majority are black.
This post has been updated throughout.