When school resource officer Ben Fields entered the classroom at Spring Valley High School on Monday morning, student Niya Kenny says she knew something was going to happen.
“Initially, when they said an SRO was coming – we have two – I didn’t know which one was coming,” Kenny told The State newspaper Thursday. “It could have been the other one. When I saw deputy Fields, that’s when I started . . . that’s when I told them to get the cameras out, because we know his reputation – well, I know his reputation.”
As soon as Kenny saw that the officer called to the classroom was Fields, she said she told her classmates to get their phones ready. The deputy entered through a door on the other side of the room from where Kenny was sitting and showed no signs of having heard her comment to her classmates, said Simone R. Martin, one of Kenny’s attorneys.
Fields approached the girl who a teacher and a school administrator said wasn’t participating in class.
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Kenny watched as Fields wrestled the girl from her desk and flung her to the front of the classroom, where he subdued and arrested her.
She said Fields then arrested her, for speaking out in support of the girl.
Though she doesn’t personally know the girl, Kenny said she knew what was happening was not OK.
The first girl was released to her parents, but Kenny was transported to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. She got out that evening.
“It was freezing,” Kenny said. Martin said her personal recognizance bond was just more than $1,000, which she owes only if she doesn’t show up for court in December.
Kenny stood up and protested, shouting loudly. The profanity she used was justified because of the severity of the situation, she said.
But it shouldn’t have fallen to her to defend the girl, she said.
“It should have been an adult, that’s what I think,” she said. “One of the adults should have said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa – that’s not how you do this.’ But instead, it had to be a student in the classroom to stand up and say, ‘This is not right.’”
Fields was fired from the sheriff’s department Wednesday after an internal investigation, and a federal civil rights investigation is underway, led by the Columbia FBI office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for South Carolina.
Kenny is not in school. She was suspended, she said.
Though she is free to return to Spring Valley if she chooses, she’s currently considering other options, according to her attorneys.
Kenny said that at first, she was satisfied with Fields’ firing but after further consideration believes he should be prosecuted. Her attorneys said the criminal charge against her, disturbing schools, needs to be resolved before they consider whether to sue the deputy and school district.
When asked what students said about Fields, Kenny said students she knows would avert their eyes in the hallway when they walked passed him, to avoid attracting his attention.
The attorney representing Fields, Scott J. Hayes, released a statement about the incident Wednesday.
“We believe that Mr. Fields’ actions were justified and lawful throughout the circumstances of which he was confronted during this incident,” a portion of the statement reads. “To that extent, we believe that Mr. Fields’ actions were carried out professionally and that he was performing his job duties within the legal threshold.”
On Thursday, Hayes said his client could not comment further.
“We stand behind the statement that was issued yesterday, and respectfully decline to make further statement at this time, as the matter is currently under investigation with federal authorities,” he said.
Though her role in the incident has catapulted her to national attention – with her name being used as a hashtag on Twitter – Kenny said she has more important things to do than pay attention to the Internet chatter about her.