Lawsuits, accolades paint portrait of school resource officer Ben Fields
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - After video surfaced of a violent incident between a female student and a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School, many are beginning to ask questions about the officer, Richland County sheriff's deputy Ben Fields.
We've learned this is not the first incident Fields has been involved in, but his record with the department is by no means lacking in accolades either.
Fields was the subject of a 2007 excessive force and violation of free speech lawsuit when a man claimed Fields slammed him to the ground, kicking him while arresting him.
The man's wife took pictures with her cell phone, and Fields told another officer to confiscate the phone. But, a jury ruled in favor of Fields.
Fields is also currently one of 10 defendants in another case scheduled for trial in 2016. In this lawsuit, a Spring Valley High School student claims he was wrongfully expelled from school in 2013. Fields was investigating gang activity at the school at the time.
Samantha Taylor says her son Ashton Reese was the expelled student in that case. Taylor said he was expelled because of a fight after school off school grounds. She says SRO Fields took over the investigation and determined the fight was gang-related.
Taylor says it was never proven to be gang-related but her son was expelled anyway and not allowed to graduate. She says Fields fabricated that claim. She also says she's witnessed aggressive behavior from Fields.
"I was actually in the parking lot when I saw him pull a parent out of her car," Taylor said. "I didn't see her doing anything. I was just sitting there. She pulled up in an area she wasn't supposed to park in and he came out in a usual aggressive manner and told her she needed to move and she got loud with him because of the way he was speaking to her and next thing you know he just snatched the door open and pulled her out and pushed her against the car and put her in handcuffs. I was in shock. That was the first time I'd ever seen him act that way. But when I went to my children they said that was the norm for him."
She has one more child who she says she is not going to send to Spring Valley.
Richland Sheriff Leon Lott mentioned these two lawsuits when we spoke with him by phone. Sheriff Lott says the main focus right now is determining how things escalated at Spring Valley yesterday between Fields and a student.
"We're going to look at everything he's done in the past, but the main thing we're going to look at is what happened today," Lott said. "That's the most important thing. The stuff in the past means something, but what he did today and how he did it that's what is going to influence me on my decision."
Fields is on administrative leave right now as the Richland County Sheriff's Department conducts its investigation.
Now, Fields has received praise for how he deals with students in the past. He received a Culture of Excellence Award from a Richland County Elementary School in 2014. A sheriffs department newsletter calls him "an exceptional role model to he students he serves and protects."
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