COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A judge has dismissed portions of a federal lawsuit filed by a deputy who was fired after he was videotaped tossing a South Carolina high school student across a classroom when she refused to give him her cellphone.
U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis ruled late last month that Ben Fields’ claims against the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and Richland Two School District should be dismissed.
Sheriff Leon Lott said he wanted to “throw up” after viewing the video of Fields throwing the Spring Valley High School student in October 2015. The video, taken by another student, was posted online and quickly garnered widespread attention.
At a news conference announcing that Fields had been fired, Lott said while he felt some responsibility for the confrontation rested with the student who refused to comply with the deputy’s demands, “the maneuver that he used was not based on the training nor acceptable.”
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“The action of our deputies, we take responsibility for that,” he said.
State and federal prosecutors declined to bring charges against Fields, with the U.S. Justice Department saying last year investigators felt Fields did not intend to violate the student’s civil rights.
Prosecutors did bring charges against the student who was thrown and the one who shot the video, however. Both were charged with disturbing schools, although the charges were later dropped.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued South Carolina over what it called the criminalization of normal adolescent misbehavior, challenging the state’s “disturbing schools” and “disorderly conduct” charges as unconstitutionally vague.
Lott entered into an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that his agency would do its part in ending what federal authorities described as a “school-to-prison pipeline” by providing intensive annual training for deputies who work in schools on how to de-escalate situations, avoid bias and interact properly with disabled students.
The agreement also required the creation of an advisory group including students and parents and the hiring of outside consultants approved by the justice department to assist with compliance. The agreement also brought to a close a civil rights review that began five months before the confrontation between the deputy and the student.
In his lawsuit against the school district, sheriff’s department and Lott, Fields said his reputation was ruined by the sheriff’s comments and he alleged that Lott acted so swiftly to punish him because the student was black and Fields is white.
That portion of Fields’ lawsuit continues. In court documents, attorneys for Lott have said Fields hasn’t shown evidence that Lott discriminated against him.
Reach Kinnard at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard .