Richland, S.C., Senior Deputy Ben Fields was fired following the violent arrest of a young Black girl, Sheriff Leon Lott announced in a press conference yesterday morning.
On Monday, the 16-year-old student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia refused to put her cell phone away when asked by her teacher. She was then asked to leave the classroom and refused once again, insisting she had done nothing wrong. Fields, 34, resorted to drastic measures and flipped the student over while she was still sitting in her desk. He then dragged her out of her chair across the room and pinned her to the ground.
Initially, Fields was suspended without pay.
Sheriff Lott: Arrest was “Disturbing”
Lott broke the news on Wednesday that Fields had been fired.
When Fields was brought in to ask the girl (who has not been identified) to leave and subsequently arrest her, he was at this point allowed to physically touch the girl but not to the extent that he did. According to Lotts, Fields “violat[ed] our policy” and did not follow the training he received for arresting a person who does not have a weapon.
“The maneuver that he used was not based on the training or acceptable. Our training unit looked at it, they examined it. I have a written report from them, which I’ll share with all you, which goes into details on how we train our officers and what we expect of them in circumstances like this,” Lotts said. “Their recommendation to me was that Deputy Fields did not follow proper training, did not follow proper procedure, when he threw the student across the room.”
The sheriff described the violent footage as “disturbing.”
“From the very beginning, that’s what’s caused me to be upset when I first saw that video and continues to upset me when I see that video, is the fact that he picked the student up and he threw the student across the room,” he said. “That is not a proper technique and should not be used in law enforcement.”
While the incident was indeed disturbing, Lotts also said he was glad the footage existed and was open to “people video[ing] us doing our job.”
“As in any incident, videos are very useful to us,” he said. “We’re glad that students took the videos.”
Although Lott also insisted that race did not play a factor in the incident citing the fact that Fields is currently dating a Black woman as his reasoning Fields’s personal and private lives could very likely be different from each other as Fields’s two prior lawsuits offer insight into an alternate possibility.
Fields is waiting to stand trial for his involvement in a 2013 incident in which Ashton James Reese, a former student at Spring Valley High School, was expelled wrongfully, according to Reese thanks in part to Fields.
According to the lawsuit, on January 30, 2013, a gang-related fight broke out in a Walmart parking lot near the school. Sheriff’s Deputy J. Bradley responded to the incident initially, and Bradley did not identify or even mention Reese by name in his report of the incident. But Fields eventually took over the investigation and insisted one of the people in the surveillance footage of the incident was Reese. Fields has refused to provide names of or statements from people who may have implicated Reese in his involvement in the incident. Reese firmly insists he is not involved with any gangs, but he was expelled from Spring Valley High School for “unlawful assembly of gang activity and assault and battery.”
The trial is set to take place in January 2016.
Fields was also tried in 2007 for a 2015 incident where he became violent with a Black man named Carlos Martin over a noise complaint. According to Martin, he parked his car in his apartment complex and exited the vehicle when Fields came running towards him, saying, “Hey, you” and asked if Martin was the cause of a noise complaint made by a neighbor. Martin said he was not and that he was just arriving home from work. Fields asked Martin for his license and registration, and at some point during the exchange Martin, “with absolutely no disrespect,” referred to Fields as “dude.” This angered Fields, who, according to the report, “slammed [Martin] to the ground, cuffed him, began kicking him and chemically maced him until his clothing was drenched and the contents of the can of mace was depleted.”
Tashiana Anita Martin, Carlos Martin’s wife at the time, came outside and began taking pictures of the incident with her cell phone. When other officers arrived at the scene, though, her cell phone was taken away and never returned to her.
Fields was accused of violating the couple’s civil rights, but a jury ruled in favor of Fields.