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S.C. Sheriff's Deputy Fired After Arrest Of High School Student


The South Carolina deputy who flipped a high school student out of her desk and dragged her across a classroom was fired today. South Carolina Public Radio's Laura Hunsberger reports from Columbia.

LAURA HUNSBERGER, BYLINE: Richland County sheriff Leon Lott told reporters at a news conference that he was disturbed by what was shown in the cell phone videos recorded on Monday and broadcast on TV almost nonstop since. Lott says that all this started when a student who was supposed to be studying in math class refused to put her cell phone away or leave the room. Both her teacher and a school administrator asked her to leave. When she didn't, Deputy Ben Fields was called to the classroom. Sheriff Lott says the deputy did not follow proper training after he grabbed the student.


LEON LOTT: 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. That is not a proper technique and should not be used in law enforcement.

HUNSBERGER: Sheriff Lott determined the deputy had violated policy. He says that Fields should've handled the student differently because she did not pose a physical threat.


LOTT: When you make an arrest from someone who does not have a weapon that you need to escape from, you never let go of that subject. You maintain control of the person you're trying to arrest. When we threw her across the room, he lost control of her. That's not acceptable. That's what violated our policy.

HUNSBERGER: Every school in Richland County has a resource officer. They're part of the school staff, acting as role models, not just law enforcement. Some also teach or coach, like Ben Fields, who coached football. The sheriff says Fields had a good reputation at the school even though there were previous allegations of excessive force and racial bias. Still, some witnesses back up his actions in the classroom that day, including the teacher and school administrator. Ultimately, Lott says it was his decision to fire him.


LOTT: Is he someone that I want representing me wearing my badge and going out here and carrying out the duties? And my determination was no, and that's why he was terminated today.

HUNSBERGER: The student involved was arrested. Another was arrested for interfering. Rashad Robinson is the executive director of, a civil rights group that got more than 70,000 online signatures. They demanded the deputy's firing and called for charges to be dropped against the students. He says the school should take care of disciplinary matters, not law enforcement.

RASHAD ROBINSON: The student has criminal charges, not just suspension or detention or some sort of reprimand from the school, but criminal charges. Yet the police officer who ripped her out of the chair and threw her on the ground has no charge.

HUNSBERGER: That might change. The FBI and Justice Department are conducting a federal civil rights investigation, and charges against the former deputy could be forthcoming. For NPR News, I'm Laura Hunsberger in Columbia, South Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Hunsberger began her career in radio in 2010 at WHQR in Wilmington, NC and received her MFA in Creative Writing, Nonfiction from UNCW. In 2012, Hunsberger began working as Associate Producer for the NPR and South Carolina Public Radio program Song Travels with Michael Feinstein. In 2015, she became a staff reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, reporting on statewide and national news and covering the historic floods that hit South Carolina in October 2015.

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