Ben Fields, the Richland county sheriff’s deputy caught on video violently manhandling a high school student in, has been placed on administrative leave while the sheriff’s department investigates the case, The Guardian reports.
In just a few years, The Guardian reports, Richland County School District Two went from being predominantly white to, now, three-quarters black. Fields, the officer, is white; the student he arrested is black. Last year, Stephen Gilchrist, a local business owner and father of three boys, founded the Richland County Two Black Parents Association with about a dozen other members. The group now has 5,700 members.
“It’s crazy, man,” Gilchrist said. “We formed because it was so obvious the white parents were getting the best access and opportunities. But we are a community of black parents who want to get involved.” He added, “The problem is widespread.”
Shortly thereafter, something called the “Bipartisan Committee” was formed—more commonly known as the Bipartisan White Citizens Committee, Gilchrist said. “I think it’s the last stand for a good school district,” a committee member, George Shissias, said before a school board election that The Guardian reports shifted the make-up of the board from mostly black to mostly white. “You will have people who will leave for other jobs. They will bully them and threaten them.”
A spokeswoman for the school district, Libby Roof, said that the school administration would also investigate Monday’s incident with Fields, against whom a lawsuit, filed by another high school student, Ashton James Reese, claiming Fields “recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity” is pending.
“In the past there have been some issues but I believe that any parent with concerns can bring it to the administration and be heard,” the school spokeswoman, Roof said.
In 2005, as a rookie, Fields brutally arrested an Army medic, Thomas Martin, stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, while he was still in uniform. “I recognized him on the spot. I remembered how big he was,” the 10-year Army veteran told the New York Daily News, after seeing the video of Fields arresting the high school student Monday. During their confrontation, Fields “snapped” after Martin called him “dude,” forcing him to the ground and emptying a can of pepper spray on him.
“He became even more violent because I didn’t react like most people would,” Martin told the Daily News, referring to his military training to resist the chemicals. Martin’s then-wife, Tashiana Rogers, was taking pictures on her cellphone, which Fields grabbed:
“I’m watching my wife get beat up in front of me, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Martin said.
The former medic, who spent 10 years in the service, said his encounter with the hulking officer lead to his divorce and discharge from the military.
A civil rights violations lawsuit filed against Fields only to be dismissed over difficulties proving excessive force. “I felt like if he had felt the consequences from 2005, this wouldn’t happen today,” Martin’s wife, Rogers, said.
Meanwhile, District Two superintendent Dr. Debbie Hamm issued a statement to WLTX19, ordering that Fields not return to any school in the district pending the results of the investigations into his actions.