Richland County, SC (WLTX) - Federal authorities have opened a civil rights investigation into an incident at Spring Valley High School involving a school resource officer and a student at Spring Valley High School that took place Monday.
"The Columbia FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of South Carolina have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of a student at Spring Valley High School," FBI Special Agent in Charge David Thomas said in a statement Tuesday. " The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence in order to determine whether a federal law was violated. As this is an ongoing investigation, per Department of Justice policy we are unable to comment further at this time."
The decision comes hours after Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott had requested they get involved. Lott stated that his agency will fully cooperate with federal agencies in the probe, and he wants to make sure there's no question in the community about a conflict of interest.
Lott said late Monday night that Deputy Ben Fields, the officer involved in the incident, will not be back at any school, and is not currently working for the department, pending the results of an investigation.
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Lott, whose agency is in charge of the school resource program at the school, was in Chicago at a law enforcement meeting when the incident took place. Lott said he was disturbed by what he saw, and said he cut short his trip, and is returning to Columbia to get answers.
"It's very disturbing what happened. It's something I have to deal with and that's what we're going to be doing," Lott said.
A video began spreading on social media sites Monday afternoon of the incident that happened at Spring Valley High School in northeast Richland County. In the recording, a female student can be seen sitting in her chair in a classroom where several other students are present. An officer can be seen grabbing the student out of her desk, causing the chair to flip over. Once the student is on the ground, the officer can be seen grabbing the student and dragging her for several feet.
The officer then tells the girl to put her hands behind her back and restraining the girl.
Late Monday night, News19 obtained a second video of the incident. It's a longer clip than the initial one, and some extra conversation can be heard.
"I've never seen anything so nasty looking, so sick to the point that you know, other students are turning away, don't know what to do, and are just scared for their lives," said Tony Robinson Jr., who made the recording "That's supposed to be somebody that's going to protect us. Not somebody that we need to be scare off, or afraid." Related Coverage: Student Who Shot Video Speaks Out
Lott had earlier told News19 that the student refused to leave after a teacher asked her to. An administrator was called to the room, and also asked the student to leave, Lott said, and she refused again. Finally, the school resource officer came to the room. Lott said the officer forcibly removed the student.
The girl was charged with disturbing schools, and was released to the custody of her parents. Another female student in the class was also charged with disturbing schools. (Wilson had earlier said the second student was male, but later clarified.)
Niya Kenny, 18, identified herself as the other student who was charged. She said she was standing up for her classmate.
"I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl. A big man, like 300 pounds of full muscle. I was like 'no way, no way.' You can't do nothing like that to a little girl. I'm talking about she's like 5'6"." Related Coverage:Second Student Arrested Speaks Out
Lott said Fields had been sued before, but that juries in those cases found in his favor. He was also named in a lawsuit over the expulsion of a student, but Lott said that did not involve a claim of excessive force.
News19 reached out to Richland School District Two. Superintendent Dr. Debbie Hamm said that the district was "deeply concerned" about the incident, and will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of students.
Hamm also said that pending the results of an investigation with the sheriff's department, the district has directed that the officer not return to any school in the district.
Here is Hamm's full statement:
"Our District is deeply concerned about an incident that occurred at Spring Valley High School today. The incident took place between a school resource officer employed by the Richland County Sheriff's Department and a student. Video of the incident is circulating on social media.
"Student safety is and always will be the District's top priority. The District will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of our students.
"Upon learning of the incident, school and district administrators began an investigation. We are working closely and in full cooperation with the Richland County Sheriff's Department to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.
"Pending the outcome of the investigation, the District has directed that the school resource officer not return to any school in the District."
Later in the evening, Richland Two Board Chairman Jim Manning issued a statement of his own.
"I have watched the video several times and there is no doubt that the video is extremely disturbing. The amount of force used on a female student by a male officer appears to me to be excessive and unnecessary. As the parent of a daughter in Richland School District Two I can assure you that we are taking this matter very seriously. The district superintendent has been in constant contact with the Richland County Sheriff to express our concern over this matter and the district has banned the deputy in question from all District Two property. The Sheriff has assured us that a full investigation is under way and that he wants the same questions answered that we all have about this matter.
"At this time, I will reserve further comment and judgement until the full investigation has been completed. However, I want to assure you that the Richland Two Board and District staff are committed to the safety of all of our students and are taking immediate steps to ensure that our students are treated with the full respect and dignity that they deserve while in our care."