Last October, then-school resource officer Ben Fields was videotaped as he violently arrested a Black teenage girl at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. On Friday (September 2), prosecutors announced that Fields—who was fired following the incident—will not be charged for his actions.
Solicitor Dan Johnson of the Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office released a report detailing the office’s investigation into the incident. It includes a detailed reporting of the events that occurred on October 26, 2015, per the evidence presented by the solicitor. In this latest account, the altercation allegedly began when the student used her cell phone and a school computer to check her email, then refused to leave the room when asked. Fields was then called in to arrest her on the charge of “disturbing schools.”
Johnson writes in the report that he doesn’t feel Fields’ actions were criminal on that day, but that they were ill-advised and indicative of a need for additional training.
While I do not believe that the actions of Benjamin Fields in this incident rise to the level of criminal conduct, the manner in which he performed his duties on Oct. 26, 2015, is of great concern to me not only as a prosecutor, but also as a citizen of this community with a deep interest in the manner in which law enforcement personnel are being utilized in our schools. Simply put, the firing of Fields was both appropriate and necessary….
It is my strong belief that the Richland County Sheriff’s Department should continue to undertake additional training in this area such that officers can take appropriate, lawful and respectful action, when necessary, to protect the safety and well-being of not only our students and teachers, but all citizens of Richland County.
The report includes Fields’ account of the events; he told investigators that he was trying to help the student out of her desk. Fields, a former competitive power lifter, has previously been sued for violating citizens’ civil rights.
I advised the student that she could go with me or that I would have to make her go with me. After several moments, I realized that I was going to have to physically remove the student from her seat to effectuate her arrest. It was my objective to simply help the student to stand up and out of her desk to take her into custody. Consistent with my training and experience, I attempted to help the student stand up and out of the desk by gaining control of her left arm and the student immediately pulled away from me. Instinctively, I recognized the students [sic] physical reaction to my attempt to help her out of the desk as defensive resistance. I then attempted to gain control of the students [sic] right arm and she became actively aggressive towards me and punched me in the face with her right arm and began to move around. I had placed my right arm over the students [sic] shoulder in an effort to prevent her from hitting me further and the desk began to fall backwards because of the momentum that the students [sic] movements had created. As the desk fell back, I held the student by her left pant leg and her left arm and was trying to pull her up and out of the desk, but the students [sic] right leg was locked in the desk, preventing my efforts. As I continued to use the muscling technique, the students [sic] leg broke free from the lock the student had on the desk, and the student slid across the floor.
The report also includes an account of events from Niya Kenny, the student who was arrested when she attempted to intervene on her classmate’s behalf. She maintains that Fields never informed the teen that she was under arrest. Also revealed in the report: in addition to skin abrasions, the student suffered a wrist fracture.
As part of the 12-page report, Johnson also questions the purpose of officers in schools, saying, “As a society, we need to think long and hard about what we want law enforcement’s role to be and what tools they should be equipped with. Is there a better way to handle these situations?”
He simultaneously expresses concern for setting a precedent where “public officials are not being allowed the necessary time to fully investigate an incident before action is demanded to be taken.” He said that this trend hurt the state’s case against the student, who will not be tried for disturbing the school.
Read the full report—including witness statements—here.