Federal officials announced Tuesday that they will conduct an investigation into a video depicting a white officer slamming a black high school student to the ground from her desk at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina.
The news comes after Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott called for a federal investigation earlier in the day.
In a statement reported by the Associated Press, the Department of Justice announced “The Columbia FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of a student at Spring Valley High School. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence in order to determine whether a federal law was violated.”
The video, reportedly recorded by another student, seems to show officer Ben Fields, who is white, approaching the black female student at her desk, and then proceeding to flip the desk with the student still in it. Fields is then shown dragging the girl out of the desk and tossing her on the floor, before handcuffing her.
A South Carolina sheriff says a video taken by another student shows the woman who was arrested hitting the officer, according to the Associated Press. But the sheriff’s office said the internal investigation will only examine the actions of the officer, not those of the student. The sheriff’s office hopes to determine whether Fields will keep his job within 24 hours.
“Literally, it just makes you sick to your stomach when you see that initial video. But again, that’s a snapshot,” Lott said.
Reuters reports Fields has been placed on administrative duties and is not allowed to return to any of the district’s 40 school during the course of the investigation. School officials say they will not tolerate behavior that endangers students.
The incident comes amidst increased attention towards the use of force by law enforcement officers. The hashtag #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh was picked up around the country, and the Richland Two Black Parents Association applauded a federal inquiry, saying the activity revealed on the video was symptomatic of larger racial issues in the district.
“What we have been saying for the last several years is that there are some real issues with the school district,” Stephen Gilcrest, a member of the association, told Reuters. “We don’t want this to be about just this officer. There is much more going on that has helped create a culture of discrimination within this district.”
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also weighed in on the incident, calling the officer’s use of force “unacceptable.”
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