COLUMBIA, South Columbia — When Sheriff Leon Lott saw a video of his deputy slamming a student to the ground and tossing her several feet, he said, it made him want to vomit.
The South Carolina sheriff vowed to act swiftly on the case. On Wednesday, he’s expected to announce what will happen to the Richland County Deputy Ben Fields, who is currently suspended without pay.
Fields is the Spring Valley High School resource officer whose actions Monday were recorded by students and ignited a firestorm on social media. Among the criticisms: his admitted use of “muscling techniques” to get the student out of her chair.
But that’s only one part of the story. Federal investigators have gotten involved. Another student arrested from the classroom has spoken out. And the sheriff is criticizing a South Carolina law that he says muddles the role of school resource officers.
Sheriff: The student hit the officer
At least three videos have surfaced of the violent arrest at Spring Valley High School. The sheriff said one of the videos shows the girl attacking the officer before the violent arrest.
“When the officer puts his hands on her initially, she reaches up and she pops the officer with her fist,” he said.
Still, after watching all the footage, Lott told reporters that he “wanted to throw up.”
“There’s no justification for some of his actions,” the sheriff told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” on Tuesday night.
The videos show the officer standing over the student, seated at her desk. He puts his arm near her neck, then yanks her backward. The desk, which is attached to her chair, tips over; the student crashes backward onto the floor.
But Fields didn’t let go, lifting her slightly off the ground. She flies out of her desk and slides several feet across the floor.
Conflicting reports on injuries
Sheriff’s department spokesman Lt. Curtis Wilson said there were no reports of any injuries. And the sheriff himself said he did not believe the girl was seriously hurt.
“To my knowledge, she wasn’t injured whatsoever,” Lott said. “She may have a rug burn or something like that, but she was not injured.”
But Todd Rutherford, the student’s attorney, said his client now has to wear a cast on her arm.
The girl also suffered a bruise on her head, her attorney said.
Student: It started with a cell phone
The girl who was taken to the ground was arrested on a charge called “disturbing schools.” A classmate, Niya Kenny, was also arrested for the same charge.
Niya told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday night the incident started when her math teacher told the other girl to give up her cell phone. The girl refused and defied orders from the teacher and an administrator to leave the classroom.
That’s when Deputy Fields was called in, Niya said. The school resource officer asked the girl to leave the classroom with him.
Niya said he “moves her laptop from off of her desk. He grabs her arm and puts his arm around her neck at first. So that’s why you actually see her — if you get the right video — you’ll see her trying to swing at him.
“And at that point,” Niya said, ” he just flipped the desk back and grabbed her out of it and threw her. And that’s when you see her rolling across the floor.”
Niya said she and other classmates had their cell phones recording because of the officer’s reputation.
“When he came in the classroom, I immediately told my classmates, ‘Get your phones out, get your phones out. I think this is going to go downhill.’ And it did.”
Her attorney, Simone Martin, said she’s been told “by a number of students he’s referred to as Officer Slam as opposed to Officer Fields. That’s telling.”
Niya was arrested and accused of disturbing school after yelling and cursing at the officer, according to an incident report.
Civil rights investigation
The FBI and area U.S. Attorney’s Office have opened a civil rights investigation to determine whether federal laws were violated during the student’s arrest, a Justice Department spokesperson said.
Sheriff Lott said the FBI is also be the lead agency in a criminal investigation.
“We do not want any issues with the community or those involved having questions concerning conflicts of interest in this investigation,” he said.
Analyst: Officer within his rights
CNN law enforcement analyst Harry Houck cautioned against jumping to conclusions about Fields, even if the initial video “looks really bad.”
If an officer decides to make an arrest, Houck said, he or she “can use whatever force is necessary.”
“So if you don’t comply with my wishes … then I can do whatever it takes to get you out of that seat and put handcuffs on you,” said Houck.