COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The sheriff of the Richland County Sheriff's Department, Leon Lott, released a statement on Wednesday in regards to the "statement of interest" filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in a case before the federal court system. The case is related to a violent incident between a former Spring Valley High School resource officer and a student that was recorded and posted to social media.
Sheriff Lott's statement reads:
"I hope that our General Assembly will realize through the DOJ's actions that the disturbing school law should be a priority in next year's session. I continue to stress that the intention of the law when passed, was to protect our schools. Unfortunately, the ambiguity of the law has resulted in abuse and misuse that has resulted in criminal charges of students that are actually discipline and classroom management issues. At Richland County, we have initiated internally procedures that address this issue. However, this is a Statewide issue that our Legislators need to address."
In the case of Niya Kenny vs. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, the Justice Department says they have an interest in the case because the "issues in this case -- alleged violations of the Due Process Clause in the administration of juvenile justice -- fall squarely within the ambit of the United States' enforcement authority."
Kenny and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal suit on Aug. 11 against the state of South Carolina over two state laws regarding the enforcement of disorderly conduct and disturbing schools.
The suit alleges both laws are intentionally vague and unfairly target minorities.
"Students are being channeled into the criminal justice system for regular adolescent behavior that schools have dealt with for generations. This shift toward criminalization is hurting young people, particularly students of color," ACLU attorney Sarah Hinger said in August.
Kenny was charged with disturbing schools in the incident involving former Richland County Sheriff's Department Deputy Ben Fields and a sophomore Spring Valley.
Video of the incident was recorded by several students present in class that day. The video shows Fields dragging the student from her desk and slamming her on the ground.
Kenny, according to her attorney, was charged in the case because she urged fellow students to try and stop the incident.