Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Stupid, Wrong, and Completely Unnecessary: Officer Slams Student to the Ground in SC High School

with 10 comments

Folks, over the past twenty-four hours, there has been much talk about an arrest by police officer Ben Fields of a high school student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. (If you haven’t read anything about it, this article from Reuters via Yahoo News should get you up to speed.)

There’s even been a video released, showing Officer Fields slamming a young, black female student to the ground while still sitting at a desk.

I’m not going to link to this video, because I find it incredibly disturbing. But I will tell you what I think about Officer Fields’ conduct.

It was stupid. It was wrong. And it was completely unnecessary.

Here’s what I know about this incident, courtesy of watching CNN, FoxNews and MSNBC.

The female student, a senior, was sitting at her desk and refused to pay attention. The teacher apparently called a vice principal into the classroom, to try to get this young woman to pay attention. When she ignored the principal, the principal called in Officer Fields.

I already have problems with this, mind, as a former teacher.

What would I have done, as a teacher? First, I’d try to remove the other students — either before I called the vice principal, or with the help of the vice principal. The reason I’d do that, is because the students need to have a good learning experience; being disruptive is not conducive to learning.

(There is almost always someplace you can go. If the weather is clement, you can go outside. If it isn’t, you can go to the school library, the gymnasium, or even the lunch room.)

Second, I’d have asked the principal to call the student’s parent or guardian.

But instead of doing any of that, the teacher stood there while the vice principal called in Officer Fields. And Fields slammed the young woman to the ground, while still in the desk…the teacher did nothing, the vice principal did nothing, and most of the students did nothing while this happened. (One other female student spoke up, and was also arrested, according to various reports.)

At any rate, because the school personnel didn’t know what to do with the student, they called in Officer Fields, which should’ve been a last resort.

Multiple mistakes were made before Officer Fields ever got there, but Officer Fields’ conduct as shown on the video made things worse.

Officer Fields apparently did not use his mind. Instead, he slammed this young student to the ground, while still inside her desk, and arrested her.

Look. This should go without saying — but here goes:

No one — a police officer nor any other — should never, never, never slam a high school student to the ground while she’s sitting in class over a verbal disagreement.

The best solution, again, is to isolate the student. Then wait for the parent or guardian to show up and discuss the behavior.

Then, to try to bring some resolution to this incident, I’d use the principles of restorative justice. I’d find a way to show that student just how disruptive it is to have someone mouthing off during class time — asking other students to act out how this student behaved might help, for example — and then I’d find a way to have that student make it up to the other students in that class.

You see, retributive justice — what we usually see in the United States — did not work, here. The officer surely seems to have used wildly excessive force on this young, female student. This did not help the student realize what she did was wrong; instead, it gave her a consequence — getting slammed to the ground while still inside a desk — that was extremely disproportionate to her action.

Over time, the student here probably will get upset at what happened to her (something that makes perfect sense), rather than realizing she cannot be disruptive in class. Even if she gets expelled, down the line, for her previous disruptive actions, she still may not understand the problems her original behavior caused for the rest of the class.

Anyway, my thought is that restorative justice would’ve helped a great deal, here, along with a dose of good, common sense.

What a shame none of that existed, here…instead, now we’re assuredly looking at a lawsuit by the student and her family, and another police officer who may lose his job.

How does that help anything?

Most of all, how does that help anyone learn?

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 27, 2015 at 3:53 pm

10 Responses

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  1. I was horrified by that footage as well. I blogged about it earlier today:

    Jens Lyon

    October 27, 2015 at 4:21 pm

  2. I went to your blog, too, Jens, and commented.

    This just isn’t sensible, at all. There was no reason whatsoever for this, as far as I’m concerned. That poor young woman could’ve broken her back, considering the angle at which the police officer slammed her (and the desk) to the ground…completely unacceptable.

    Barb Caffrey

    October 27, 2015 at 4:55 pm

  3. There is more then one video. The officer was in the wrong. Here are further facts. A. The student was using her cell phone and refused to stop. B. She refused to get out of her chair and leave the room. C. One of the other videos showed her hitting the officer in his face. The officer did over react but it’s very hard to get a person out of a desk if the student doesn’t want to move. .
    So Barb your methods would let any student disrupt a class any time he/she wants. I’ve been trying to think of a method of getting the girl out of the desk with out force. Plus do you actually think the VP didn’t try talking her out? One of the first things he would have brought up was her parents.

    Thomas Monaghan

    October 27, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    • Tom, I did think the girl was on her cell phone. I just couldn’t get confirmation, so I deleted what I’d said about that.

      Like I said, I’d have left her in the room by herself, providing she was unwilling to cooperate (as it turns out she was).

      If she hit that officer in his face, then while what he did was still not appropriate, it’s at least understandable. He might not lose his job, if that turns out to be the case.

      I agree with you that it’s hard to get someone out of a desk if she refuses to move. Again, my solution would be to leave the room and take the rest of the class with me — or, in a college situation, I’d dismiss the class, then find a way to get that girl disenrolled. (I realize in a high school environment, it’s not easy to do that. You’re looking at a suspension, and possibly an expulsion, especially if she hit that officer in the face.)

      I’m reasonably sure the VP did try to talk her out. But again, Tom — the teacher should’ve removed the rest of the class. If the girl refused to get off that cell phone, the VP should stay there, the rest of the class (and the teacher) should leave, and the girl should be suspended.

      This way, Tom, she learns nothing. My way, maybe she learns a little something.

      And the whole thing about restorative justice, Tom — another student, or maybe a bunch of students, could show her how obnoxious it is to be sitting on a cell phone while others try to learn. This would give her a taste of her own medicine — and again, she might learn that way. (This way, she learns nothing.)

      Barb Caffrey

      October 27, 2015 at 9:27 pm

      • Your way any student can disrupt any class any time! And they will!

        Thomas Monaghan

        October 27, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      • Tom, going back to this specific situation — if the girl was on her cell phone, why didn’t the policeman call to get the cell phone service interrupted? Tracing is possible, so why not trace the call and cut it off at the source?

        A school can even make that acceptable by having its students sign a contract at the beginning of the school year — that way, the phone call is cut off, she can’t talk on the phone, she can’t text, and she has to pay attention.

        (Or at least is not able to disrupt the class any more.)

        And again, the policeman’s response is disproportionate. If the girl really did hit him, that’s wrong on her part — but he shouldn’t slam her down. I think he should’ve called for another police officer, preferably a female officer, in addition to trying to get that cell phone call cut off at the source.

        Barb Caffrey

        October 27, 2015 at 11:01 pm

  4. Law enforcement can only get a cell trace without a warrant is if they can show immediate need (ie. welfare of the person with the phone). It says right on the form that I have to fill out and send to Verizon that they won’t give me the information unless the request meets their standards unless there is a warrant. The only time I’ve ever heard of law enforcement being able to disconnect or reroute someone else’s phone is during a hostage situation. Those cell phone jammers that make it impossible to use your cell phone are illegal per the FCC. So, there is no legal way to disrupt her cell phone call without physically taking the phone away from her. There is more video coming out of the incident. I’m not convinced the officer handled that as well as he could have, but I’m also not convinced he did anything wrong at this point either. I’ll wait for more information to become available.

    School Resource Officers have been a great tool in the community in showing kids who might otherwise be apprehensive about speaking with an officer about a problem to come forward. They do wonderful things, but there are also some downsides. The biggest problem with the school calling in the officer is that the officer will be obligated to enforce the law. Any violations of the law in his presence can result in arrest. Failure to obey a lawful request by a law enforcement officer is generally considered an arrestable offense in most jurisdictions. If they don’t want the student arrested or otherwise detained, they shouldn’t be calling for the officer.


    October 27, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    • Kamas, I’m surprised this didn’t automatically allow your comment to go through…maybe you’re using a new e-mail addy?

      Anyway, I didn’t know that about the FCC. My thought was that if the school has a signed contract saying you can’t use a cell phone, that would cover them — maybe that isn’t strong enough to cover them, in this case. 😦

      Yes, if she refuses to get up, arrest her. But don’t use excessive force. If she refuses to leave that desk, I’d rather see three officers carry her out, desk and all — as ridiculous as that would look — than see that body slam with her still inside that desk.

      If video comes out showing her hitting the officer, that would make two wrongs instead of the one wrong we already know about with the widely-available video.

      I agree with you about School Resource Officers. I think they are generally helpful.

      Thanks for the info here, Kamas, about FCC rules and such. (I don’t know everything, and don’t even pretend to know it. (I do know that it would take longer to get a warrant to shut her call down than it would to get a couple more officers down there and carry her out, desk and all.)

      Barb Caffrey

      October 28, 2015 at 1:36 am

  5. Call which service? And for something like that the police officer would need a legal document. By the way shutting off her phone is something they can do easily on TV not real life. Ok Barb explain to me how he is supposed remove her from the desk and out of the room? Whatever he could have would have been violence of some degree.

    Thomas Monaghan

    October 27, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    • Tom, I just said to Kamas that I agree with arresting her, providing it’s peaceable. I’d probably have gotten the other officer at the school (as supposedly there were two) to see those two were enough to carry the student out, ridiculous as it would’ve looked. If not, I’d have asked for a third officer to come down there and assist me in carrying out that student — as I’m sure three officers would be able to get that student out, desk and all, without body-slamming her in the process.

      I don’t have all the answers, Tom. I wish I did. I know teachers are very concerned about the risks to themselves in those situations, and I completely understand that. The amount of student-on-teacher violence right now is staggering.

      Conflict resolution and restorative justice would still help, here, because it’s based on trying to make that situation _right_ for all concerned. Body-slamming the student to the ground doesn’t make anyone learn anything, except fear of the police and possibly, by extension, fear of authority. It also makes the teacher and the vice principal, in this case, look weak and unable to lead.

      I can’t say this enough, Tom — the teacher and the principal need to have a game-plan for when a student acts out like this. (I don’t think any student should have a cell phone in a classroom, but there are many ways to disrupt a class.) Shunning the student would be a better choice than this; if the student then acted out in violence, he or she should be restrained until a police officer can get there and arrest the student for fighting (much less unprovoked fighting). And restorative justice should be used, to show the student what she’s doing is wrong…because down the line, those students can never get those minutes back that she disrupted (before the police officer came in and body-slammed her).

      Barb Caffrey

      October 28, 2015 at 1:42 am

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