On Monday, video taken by frightened students in a high school classroom was released, showing a White male police officer physically attempting to restrain an African-American female student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. In the video, it’s clear that the student was sitting in a desk when Ben Fields entered the room, approached her, grabbed her by her neck and arms, body slammed her to the floor while she was still entangled in the desk, and dragged her on the floor to the door of the classroom.
It’s not the first time that young Black females have been assaulted by law enforcement officers. But as we call for justice, we also need to stay informed so as to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. Here is what you need to know about the case and what it means for students nationwide.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE CASE SO FAR:
According to some of the eyewitnesses, the student was asked to put her cell phone away during class, but did not do so. School officials were called, along with Officer Ben Fields. What transpired next was captured on the cell phones of other students in the room, many of whom have come forward to express just how deeply Fields’ actions were uncalled for.
As to be expected, this video has caused an uproar across the country. According to reports, Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County, South Carolina, has asked the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate the incident to get further information surrounding what led to this assault against the student.
Fields has since been fired from his position as a school resource officer.
“It’s very disturbing what happened today. It’s something I have to deal with and that’s what we’re going to be doing,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said late Monday, according to WLTX 19. Lott’s agency is reportedly responsible for the resource program at the school, the report added.
The student was later released to the custody of her parents. Her attorney said Tuesday night that she suffered injuries and is wearing a cast.
Two past lawsuits have been filed against Fields in federal court, accusing him of violating civil rights and also unlawfully and recklessly targeting African-American students.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?
Different states maintain different rules, procedures, and laws as it relates to disruptive students, and those who are asked to leave and/or are removed from the classroom. As noted within the South Carolina Composition of School Discipline Laws and Regulations, there are three separate levels of misconduct, followed by subsequent mandated rules for dealing with said conduct. If you are asked to leave a classroom, and you do not, you may become a disruption to the class and the other students. This, in turn, can and may allow for additional REASONABLE assistance in maintaining a proper learning environment for the remaining students.
Fields worked as a School Resource Officer (“SRO”), typically a police officer or sheriff’s deputy, whose main responsibility is to partner with the guidance counselors of a school in an effort to improve student grades and attendance. Juvenile delinquency or crime and truancy are issues that SROs work to help to reduce through early intervention activities in the school.
Overall, its primary role is to provide law enforcement-type services to a school to encourage everyone to follow all regulations. SROs typically work for their parent police agency, but are assigned to a particular school. Their purpose is to help, not to hurt.
According to the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), school-based policing is one of the fastest growing areas of law enforcement. This leads both directly and indirectly to juvenile charges. First, because disrupting a classroom can lead to an actual arrest in the school, as seen by Niya Kenny‘s experience. And second, because statistics show students are more likely to be arrested on suspension days, according to the Chicago Policy Review.
If you are a student or parent who feels that an assigned SRO has violated your civil rights, please make a formal complaint with the police agency, school district, and speak with an attorney.
HOW WILL THIS AFFECT FIELDS, HIS OFFICE, AND THE SCHOOL DISTRICT?
There are several issues that may be raised regarding the legal ramifications, if any, that face Officer Fields, his police agency, and the school district that hired and continued to employ him, despite the allegations and lawsuits filed against him. If found liable, the police agency, school district, and Fields may be held responsible on the civil level, and may be ordered to pay damages to the students and families jeopardized.
Civil rights laws, particularly Section 1983, within Title 42 of the United States Code, were passed to curb oppressive behaviors and acts by the government and private individuals. Under the act, it is unlawful for anyone under the authority of state law to deprive another person of his or her rights under the Constitution or federal law. This is mostly related to false arrest, malicious prosecution, failure to intervene, and, in this case in South Carolina, utilizing excessive force.
Excessive force claims focus on whether the officer’s actions were reasonable or not considering the surrounding facts and circumstances. If the amount of force was reasonable, given the facts of the matter, then the officer’s intentions, good or bad, are not considered in a case.
Unfortunately, the narrative about the teen being “disruptive” and “violent” towards the officer has already begun, with multiple media outlets noting that it was not clear what happened before the video started. Furthermore, the sheriff said Friday that the teen holds some responsibility for the violent incident.
“When the officer puts his hands on her initially, she reaches up and she pops the officer with her fist,” he said Tuesday.
Stay tuned for more updates.
PHOTO CREDIT: Twitter