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Richland County deputy from viral school video sues department for releasing false information, reputation damage

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A South Carolina deputy who was fired despite being cleared of wrongdoing in the forcible removal of a hostile high school student is suing his agency, citing that his reputation has been destroyed as a result of the incident.

Former Richland County deputy Ben Fields is suing the RCSD, claiming they released false information that resulted in a tarnished reputation of an incident that made national headlines and is claiming actual damages and attorney’s fees.

The incident in question took place in October of 2015 at Spring Valley High School, where Fields had (at the time) worked for over seven years as a School Resource Officer. Called into a classroom due to a disruptive black female student who refused to leave when ordered, the caucasian SRO gave multiple verbal warnings before forcible removing her from the classroom and putting her in cuffs.

Naturally,the students began recording the incident, with three separate angles of the account showing Fields dragging the girl across the floor and restraining her. It didn’t take long for those videos to find their way to news stations, with repeated showings on televisions across the US.

On the day of the incident, Fields was informed that he would be reviewed for his actions but to report to work the next day. It wasn’t until he was watching the news that night that he learned he had been suspended without pay.

Two days later, he was fired by RCSD Sheriff Leon Lott, who said he used improper procedure to remove and restrain the student. The top lawman of the county claimed he had “no choice.”

However, Fields’ lawsuit disputes the Sheriff’s assertion, citing an internal investigation communique between two senior leaderships that states the student struck Fields in the neck.

“This is, at the very least, Defensive Resistance, and possibly Active Aggression,” the memo states. ” According to policy, Fields had the option of using OC [pepper spray], Taser, soft empty hand control, hard empty hand control, or Canine. Fields responded with hard empty hand control. Once down on the grounds, Fields appeared to pull her away from the desk and thrown her towards the front of the classroom.”

In addition to the memo, both the teacher and administrator of SVHS made statements saying Fields did what he had to to get the student under control.

However, Lott disagrees with the communique, saying Fields failed to handle the situation properly.

“Our training unit verified that the maneuver was not based on training or acceptable,” Lott said in a statement.

Fields claims that not only was his reputation ruined by the incident (including the fact he would have to go back to the police academy if he wanted to continue his LE career,) he has been the victim of great humiliation and anguish due to what he feels is maltreatment by his own department.

In his lawsuit, Fields also claims he was treated unfairly due to his race, saying the department is intentionally disadvantaging white employees in matters involving black individuals and disparate treatment to white employees with regard to the terms and conditions of their employment, and unequal treatment with regards to decisions to hire and fire.”

According to WCNC, the Fifth Circuit Court ceclined to press criminal charges against Fields last year, with the US Justice Department following the same course of inaction on Friday.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department has declined to comment on the lawsuit due to its “pending litigation” status.

 

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