Manhandling of S.C. student part of wider discipline problem, parents say

Following the footage of a controversial arrest at a South Carolina school district, parents have claimed the school has a longstanding history of disciplining black students more harshly.

This photo, made from video taken by a Spring Valley High School student on Monday, shows Senior Deputy Ben Fields trying to forcibly remove a student from her chair after she refused to leave her high school math class, in Columbia S.C. The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation Tuesday after Fields flipped the student backward in her desk and tossed her across the floor.

Some parents of students at Spring Valley High School say they were saddened but not surprised by a video showing a school resource officer getting into an intense confrontation with a student.

A group calling themselves the Richland Two Black Parents Association has called for a Justice Department investigation into what they say are long-standing discriminatory practices by the school district.

Founding member Stephen Gilchrist said the district has a history of disciplining African-American students aggressively. Black students make up 59 percent of the district's 27,500 pupils.

Officer Ben Fields was suspended after video emerged showing him grab a 16-year-old female student, flip the chair backwards, and drag her across a classroom before handcuffing her for being disruptive in class.

"We don't want this to be about just this officer," Gilchrist said. "There is much more going on that has helped create a culture of discrimination within this district."

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said he did not know if race was a factor in the case. He said there’s a third video that showed the student striking and punching at the officer.

The student "bears some responsibility. It started with her," Mr. Lott said.

A school official said that the district is aware of concerns relating to racial disparities and has taken steps to address them.

Mr. Fields, who is also one of the coaches for the high school football team, has faced previous abuse allegations. He has been named as a defendant in two federal lawsuits, court records show. The most recent case, set for trial in January, stems from a 2013 complaint that he "unfairly and recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity."

A previous case from 2007 was settled in Fields's favor. He and another deputy had been accused of unreasonable and excessive force during an investigation of a noise complaint. A jury found them not guilty.

This article contains material from Reuters.

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