Prosecutors have declined to criminally charge a disgraced South Carolina cop who forcefully dragged a Black teenage girl across a Spring Valley High classroom after she refused to hand over her cell phone. The disturbing ordeal was caught on camera and sparked national outrage.
Former Richland County Police Officer Ben Fields was fired from the force after video surfaced of him manhandling a Black student named Shakara, 16. Fields aggressively yanked the teen from her desk, placed her in a choke hold, flipped her over while he was still seated in the chair, and proceeded to drag her out of the classroom.
Despite footage of the shocking incident, Solicitor Dan Johnson said he found no probable cause to charge the former high school resource officer, the New York Daily News reports. Johnson’s 12-page report on the incident, released Friday, includes a detailed summary of the October 2015 classroom encounter, along with a slew of testimonies from 14 witnesses.
One of the witnesses noted that “the incident looked worse in the video than it did in the classroom.” Other witnesses deemed the officer’s actions justified, as Shakara reportedly tried to strike Officer Fields as he attempted to arrest her.
The report also included testimony from Fields himself and Niya Kenny, a classmate who recorded the incident on her cell phone. According to Atlanta Black Star, both Niya and Shakara were arrested and faced a “disturbing schools” charge — an offense that carries a $1,000 maximum fine and up to 90 days behind bars.
“Based on all available evidence, it is my legal opinion that there is not sufficient probable cause to warrant criminal charges against Former Deputy Benjamin Fields,” Johnson wrote. “Further, I am unable to conclude that Benjamin Fields’ use of force was criminal based not only on his perceptions of the events that occurred on October 26, 2015, but also the admitted resistance of the student, as well as subsequent information obtained via the joint FBI and SLED file as set forth, in part, herein.”
In his report, the solicitor also noted that the “disturbing schools” charges brought against Shakara and Niya would be dismissed.
Despite Johnson’s decision to drop the charges, the New York Daily News reports that the American Civil Liberties Union has since filed a suit against the state of South Carolina. In it, the nonprofit alleged that the ludicrous charges criminalized “regular adolescent behavior.”
“The ACLU found that hundreds of students…are being charged under a far-reaching and nebulous statute for behaviors like loitering, cursing, or undefined “obnoxious” actions on school grounds,” the advocacy group wrote in an Aug. 11 press release. “The statute also has a chilling effect on students who speak out against policing abuses within the schools. Black students are nearly four times as likely to be targeted under the law.”
According to ACLU attorney Sarah Hinger, the shift toward criminalizing normal teenage behaviors ultimately hurts young students, “particularly students of color.”
According to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, Black students throughout the South are twice as likely to receive corporal punishment. These cases were particularly bad for students in Mississippi, who were 70 percent more likely to be physically punished than white students. Black students were also found to have a higher rates of physical punishment in Colorado, Ohio and California, Atlanta Black Star reports.
“Every time a child is beaten in school and every time one is suspended and thus loses learning time, something or someone has failed that child along the way, regardless of the ‘reason’ for the punishment,” said writer Dirk Startz. “So long as these failures fall disproportionately on black children, we are not yet living up to the dream that ‘children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ ”