Get Schooled

Your source to discuss and learn about education in Georgia and the nation and share opinions and news with Maureen Downey

South Carolina deputy fired for actions in viral school video. Right call?

The South Carolina sheriff’s deputy caught on video throwing a disruptive student across the floor was fired today .

After seven years at Spring Valley High as a school resource officer, Deputy Ben Fields lost his job this morning for actions 48 hours earlier in a classroom at the Columbia, S.C., campus.

Despite support for Fields from the teacher and administrator involved in the incident, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said in a noon press conference he had to fire Fields because the deputy violated policy.

“They didn’t have a problem with it. But I had a problem with it,” said Lott. “When he threw her across that room that is what I made my decision on. It wasn’t a hard decision. It was a decision that was evident, that I needed to make.”

Lott said the termination was based on Fields' violation of department policy. Whether the officer faces criminal charges could be decided by the federal civil rights inquiry now underway, he said. Deputy Fields is white, and the student is African-American. 

The sheriff said Fields had support from many parents and students at the school, where he served as a football coach. But Lott said an internal affairs investigation found Fields did not follow departmental policy and training. "The officer did not use the techniques taught to remove a student," he said.

Lott said it’s important to remember the sophomore started the incident by failing to obey her algebra teacher. Lott said the teen refused to stop texting on her cellphone and pay attention, and then ignored the male teacher’s order to leave and go to the office.

“He was trying to teach,” said Lott. “That’s his job. She was preventing that from happening. She wasn’t following instruction. She was disrupting the class and preventing students from learning. It doesn't justify the officer's actions, but she has to be held accountable for what she did.”

(See Life with Gracie's take on firing.)

Lott raised a point that is worth discussing here: Should the teacher and administrator have called on a deputy to deal with a student who wouldn’t stop texting in class and put away her phone?

“When they call us, we are going to take a law enforcement action,” said the sheriff. “Should he have been called there? Maybe, this should have been handled by the teacher and administrator.”

Lott urged parents to use the video as a learning moment with their own kids, saying he did so with his seventh grade daughter. “Talk to your kids that sometimes young people make bad decisions and they should be held accountable. And police officers make mistakes, too, and they need to be held accountable.”

Here again is the video that started this controversy:

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.