COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A group of black parents and civil rights activists presented a petition Thursday calling for officials to drop charges against a 16-year-old South Carolina high school student who was videotaped being yanked from her desk and thrown to the floor by a police officer in her classroom.
The group said it was unfair and unacceptable that the student and her 18-year-old classmate at Spring Valley High School who taped the incident were the only people charged that day when authorities already knew Richland County Deputy Ben Fields had yanked the girl from her desk and thrown her to the ground.
“If any one of us would have done a youngster or even an adult like that, we would be in jail that day,” pastor and activist Thomas Dixon said.
He and the others presented petitions that they said had hundreds of thousands of names from around the country asking Solicitor Dan Johnson to drop the misdemeanor “disturbing schools” charges against the teens. The students in the case are black; Fields is white.
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Johnson issued a statement Wednesday saying he won’t do anything with the case until the FBI finishes its investigation into Fields, who was fired after the video became public.
“I do not simply decide cases based upon feelings, public opinion or sentiment, nor do I decide them based on political pressure,” Johnson said in the statement.
Disturbing schools is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail. The students’ lawyer did not respond to telephone messages.
The video spread quickly across the country, prompting questions about when police officers should get involved with classroom discipline. Fields was called to the classroom after the student refused to stop using her cellphone, and then she would not leave the classroom for a teacher or administrator.
In the days after the incident, the teacher turned her class over to a substitute and the administrator was placed on leave. Richland 2 officials didn’t respond to an email asking about their current status.
The students were allowed back in school.
Organizers of the protest said they plan to be at South Carolina’s Statehouse next year, calling for legislators to change the law that allows police officers to arrest students for misbehaving at schools. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott blamed that law for escalating the situation.
“Let’s find a way where we don’t saddle students with arrest records,” said Efia Nwangaza from the Malcom X Center for Self Determination. “Let’s get ahead of the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse train in South Carolina.”
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins