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Officer seen tossing black student in video faces existing civil-rights lawsuit

A cellphone video recording of the incident has made the rounds on social media, igniting new debate about police treatment and the role of law enforcement in public school classrooms.

A video showing a black high school student being dragged from her desk and pulled across a classroom by a sheriff's deputy in South Carolina has left a community searching for answers, and the officer on leave.

No one was injured in the altercation, which officials say began when the student refused to leave the classroom after being disruptive, but a cellphone video recording of the incident has made the rounds on social media, reigniting debate about police treatment and the role of law enforcement in public school classrooms. 

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says he is investigating what happened at Columbia's Spring Valley High School, upon returning to town on Tuesday from a conference in Chicago.

The officer in the video, Senior Deputy Ben Fields, has been placed on leave, according to Lt. Curtis Wilson.

While it is still unclear what occurred before a student pressed "record," Mr. Fields is heard saying, "You're either going to come with me, or I'm going to make you," he says.

When she falls backwards, the officer continues to forcibly remove her, at one point throwing her several feet.

School administrator Debbie Hamm issued a statement that school officials are "deeply concerned." Dr. Hamm said student safety is always the top priority and the district will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize student safety.

The NAACP's Legal Defense & Education Fund issued a statement denouncing the officer's actions and raised questions about how the incident was reported.

"We are concerned that we learned of this incident from what appears to be a student video," LDF writes. "Teachers must be properly trained to promptly report incidents of police abuse of students."

The New York Times reports that Fields, who has been a resource officer at the school since 2008, is set to face trial on January 27 for violating the civil rights of a former Spring Valley student, Ashton Reese. The lawsuit, the second against Fields regarding rights abuses, was filed in November 2013, after Mr. Reese was expelled in February of that same year for “unlawful assembly of gang activity and assault and battery” following the officer's investigation.

The lawsuit alleges that Officer Fields “unfairly and recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity,” The Times reports.  

David Klinger, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, says in an interview with CNN the deputy's actions appear "unjustifiable."

"It literally makes no sense, as I'm looking at it, why he would escalate to that point – pick her up, pick up the chair she's in, the desk she's in, and toss her," Mr. Klinger said.

"There may be some logical explanation, but I can't see it."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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