Richland County, South Carolina, Sheriff Leon Lott said a student who was thrown to the floor and across a classroom by school resource officer Ben Fields should accept responsibility for starting the incident when she wouldn't get up out of he chair; a video of what happened became a viral phenomenon this week and led to Fields’ termination from the sheriff’s department Wednesday.
“The incident started with a very disruptive student in a class, the student was not allowing teacher to teach and not allowing students to learn,” Lott said during a press conference Wednesday. “She started the incident, she refused to leave the class,” Lott continued to say.
Lott said Fields, who is white, was fired because he violated department policy in his actions, and that while the unidentified student, who is black, should take some responsibility, her actions did not justify being thrown to the ground by Fields. Three videos of the incident have been widely reported since Monday. They show Fields grabbing the student by the neck, pulling her down in her desk and dragging her across the classroom.
One of the videos, police have said, shows the student swinging at Fields during the confrontation, MSNBC reported. The student was asked by a teacher to put her cell phone away and work on a project. After she didn’t put her phone away, Fields was eventually called in to remove her.
Lott said other students in the room were doing as they were instructed. “Their education was put on hold by a disruptive student,” Lot said.
“We must not lose sight that this whole incident was started by this student,” Lott said.
Lott has been with the sheriff’s department since 1975 when he joined as a patrol officer, according to the department’s website. He has served in various capacities, including criminal investigator, narcotics agent and administrative captain, and in 1993 became Chief of Police of St. Matthews, South Carolina.
He ran for sheriff of Richland County in 1996 and won. His department got into hot water in August when Lott traded two airplanes that didn’t belong to him in the first place, according to WIS-TV in Columbia, South Carolina. The department was suspended from a federal military surplus program that loans military equipment to police departments.
Sheriff Leon Lott lays responsibility for #springvalleyhigh incident on the 16 YO girl, but adds "that doesn't justify what our deputy did."
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) October 28, 2015
Lott has said he doesn’t think race was a factor in Fields’ actions, pointing out that Fields is dating an African-American woman. "He's been dating an African-American female for quite some time now," Lott has said according to Inside Edition. "So does that have a bearing on his thought process? It may have. But I would think that would have it on a positive way, not on a negative way."
The U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI have launched investigations to see if the student’s civil rights were violated. The student’s attorney said Wednesday that she has her arm in a cast and that she also sustained other injuries during the incident, the Associated Press reported.