Former Richland County deputy Ben Fields is keeping a low profile as state and local officials work on new rules for in-school law enforcement officers a year after he flipped an unruly Spring Valley High student in her chair and dragged her across the room.
“He’s doing his best to move forward,” said Scott Hayes, Fields’ lawyer.
Although 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson determined last month that no criminal charges would be brought against Fields, the U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the case for possible federal civil rights violations but has made no decision yet
Fields’ “reputation has been immeasurably impacted as a result of the fallout and until that cloud has lifted and the DOJ has completed its investigation and made the results public, I don’t know what kind of options Ben will have,” Hayes said.
Fields is not giving interviews, Hayes said.
The incident was caught on student cell phone cameras, with the videos going viral across the nation within hours.
The confrontation had racial overtones – Fields is white and the student was African-American – and sparked a state and national conversation not just on race but on the role of police officers in schools nationally.
“One of the most important things to come out of that video was the need to have well-defined standards on the role police play in schools,” said Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and University of South Carolina law professor who specializes in law enforcement regulation.
“That is a conversation that did not always happen, or happen consistently, between schools and police agencies,” Stoughton said. “As disturbing as that incident was, it brought a lot of attention to the need to have a well-defined role that officers can play and the need for everyone to understand what that standard is.”
Among the changes:
▪ In August, the Department or Justice ordered the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to upgrade training and skills of 87 school resource officers. The goal: to reduce police use of force against students.
▪ State education officials are proposing two regulations to make sure police have proper training for operating in a school environment and have understanding with school officials and students what their role is. “No one wants a school resource officer in a classroom unless a student has done something that qualifies a as criminal conduct. They should not be there for a low-level discipline,” education department spokesman Ryan Brown said.
▪ The S.C. Criminal Justice Academy is studying changes in the classes it holds for in-school policing techniques.
Hayes is glad new rules and training for school resource officers are in play.
“It’s always been our position he (Fields) was operating well within the legal threshold,” Hayes said. “Any lessons learned from this came at tremendous cost to my client.”