Hours after a video surfaced that appeared to show a white sheriff’s deputy dragging a black South Carolina high school student out of a chair and across a classroom, shock waves continued to be felt in Columbia and across the nation. The video, which spread quickly on social media Monday afternoon, was taken Monday inside Richland County’s Spring Valley High, as The Washington Post’s Emma Brown and Elahe Izadi reported.
Early Tuesday, Columbia’s WLTX reported that Nia Kenny, another student in the classroom, said she was also arrested after standing up for her classmate, who has not been named in reports.
“I know this girl don’t got nobody and I couldn’t believe this was happening,” Kenny, 18, told WLTX. “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.”
Kenny said the other student was asked to leave by the teacher after not participating in class. When she refused, the teacher called an administrator who, in turn, called in a sheriff’s deputy. The sheriff’s deputy, Ben Fields, appeared to overturn the student’s desk while the student was still sitting in it, then drag her across the room.
“Put your hands behind your back!” the officer said. “Give me your hands!”
Kenny said she shot video of the incident and confronted the officer.
“I was screaming ‘What the f, what the f, is this really happening?’ I was praying out loud for the girl,” Kenny said. “I just couldn’t believe this was happening. I was just crying. And he was like, ‘Since you have so much to say, you are coming too.’ ”
Kenny did not resist.
“I just put my hands behind my back,” she said. She was arrested for “disturbing schools,” as WLTX reported, and was released on $1,000 bond.
“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,” said Tony Robinson Jr., another student in a class who made a recording, said. “That’s supposed to be somebody that’s going to protect us. Not somebody that we need to be scared of, or afraid.”
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said late Monday night that Deputy Ben Fields will not be back at any school and is not currently working for the department, pending the results of an investigation, WLXT reported.
CNN reported that Fields was sued — unsuccessfully — in 2007 when a man he arrested alleged police brutality. According to the plaintiff, Fields, responding to a noise complaint, “slammed him 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 [sic] depleted.” A jury found for the officer.
Fields is also a defendant in a civil suit, due to go to court in January, by another student who alleges he was inappropriately expelled from Spring Valley in 2013. Fields was investigating gang activity at the school at the time — the student alleges “lack of due process, negligence, negligent supervision and a violation of the right to public education,” among other charges, as CNN reported.
Spring Valley High has about 2,000 students, based on U.S. News and World Report data from the 2012-2013 academic year. The school is 64 percent minority; 51 percent of the students are black, and 36 percent are white. Thirty-five percent of students are designated as “economically disadvantaged.” Although South Carolina is notorious for its failing schools, particularly in a so-called “corridor of shame” along Interstate 95, Richland’s second district, where Spring Valley is located, does not appear to be among them. The district got a “B” in a federal evaluation last year.
Calvin Jackson, one of four black members of the seven-member school board, told the New York Times that the “overwhelming majority” of parents were pleased with the direction of the district, but that he was “outraged” and “angered” by the video.
“We’re going to be asking for the permanent removal of this officer from our schools,” Jackson said.
Columbia’s mayor, Steve Benjamin (D), also issued a statement condemning the officer’s behavior.
“Though this incident involved a Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy and not an officer with the Columbia Police Department, we cannot and will not accept this kind of behavior from any law enforcement officer,” he said. “I firmly believe that we need an independent investigation to get the bottom of this incident and see that justice is done.”
Reactions to the arrest were collected under the hashtag “#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh.”
“There is nothing that child could have said to deserve that treatment,” Jotaka Eaddy, formerly of the NAACP, wrote. “NOTHING.”