A video of a white South Carolina police officer body slamming a black high school student to the ground in a classroom has sparked outrage on social media and an investigation. The 15-second video, purportedly recorded by another student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, shows Officer Ben Fields approaching the girl before the incident occurs.
Fields, of the Richland County Sheriff's Department, pulls the girl's arm and then places her in a chokehold before flipping her and the desk she is sitting in. The officer is seen dragging her from the chair, tossing her across the room before placing her in handcuffs. The incident is witnessed by a classroom full of students who stare silently.
During the video, which went quickly went viral, the teenaged girl does not appear to resist or even argue with the officer. Reuters reported that a second, longer video of the incident shows Fields telling another student: "Hey, I'll put you in jail next," after the student expresses concern over the situation.
Richland School District Two told WLTX in a statement that the incident was being investigated. "Student safety is and always will be the district's top priority. The district will not tolerate any actions that jeopardise the safety of our students," the statement said.
Meanwhile, Sheriff's Department spokesman Curtis Wilson said Sheriff Leon Lott was "totally disturbed" by the video but asked the public to hold off until the investigation was concluded. Wilson said that the department and its internal affairs division were investigating the incident and that Fields had been placed on administrative leave.
According to WIS-TV, Sheriff Lott said the student was disrupting class and "refused to comply" with the officer's direction. "When she refused," Lott said earlier on 26 October, Fields "was requested to take action." The student was reportedly told she was under arrest but she continued to refuse to follow the officer's orders.
The video has garnered criticism from several organisations and from social media. According to NBC News, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina said the deputy's actions were "egregious." The group added in a statement, "There is no justification whatsoever for treating a child like this."
The Richland Black Parents Association also released a statement, saying they were "heartbroken as this is just another example of the intolerance that continues to be of issue in Richland School District Two particularly with families and children of colour."