A former Richland County deputy who was videoed tossing a Spring Valley High School student during an arrest in 2015 has broken his silence.
Former school resource officer Ben Fields’ decision to speak about his actions that day comes after more than a year of silence, and just weeks after he filed a lawsuit against his former employer, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
In an interview with WIS 10, Fields said the incident changed his life “probably forever.”
Fields was summoned to a classroom by school staffers on Oct. 26, 2015, to remove a student who was refusing to put her cell phone away. Fields told the television station he asked the girl to leave the classroom with him, so they could talk. When she declined, Fields moved in to arrest her.
Three cell phone cameras would capture him arresting the student. Fields said he tried removing the teen from her chair, but that she locked in her leg to the desk, making it difficult to pull her.
“I understand what it looks like, but she’s pulling, and I’m pulling,” Fields told WIS 10. “And so, I have said all along that it was not a toss in no way, shape, or form. It was me pulling her, trying to get her away from that chair, and when she came loose, she came loose.”
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott fired him two days later and asked the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate whether any civil rights had been violated. The justice department, however, announced in January there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Fields with any criminal civil rights violations.
In September, 5th Circuit solicitor Dan Johnson also announced no charges would be filed against Fields, the disruptive student or a student who enouraged her classmates to video the incident.
But just before the justice department’s announcement, Fields filed on Jan. 10 a defamation and negligence lawsuit against the sheriff’s department, naming Lott and Richland School District 2 as defendants.
He also accused Lott and the sheriff’s department of depriving him of his rights in the lawsuit. He said he was treated differently because of his race. Fields is white; the now-former student is black. He said he has suffered a “severe reputational loss.”
“I think when something like this happens, it ruins your reputation tremendously because again people don’t know the whole story,” Fields told WIS 10. “They’re judging it based on what one or two people say, based on a 7-second video, and it just simply wasn’t the case.”