Depending on who you talk to and which documents you read, Ben Fields is either an outstanding school resource officer or a deputy once sued for using excessive force.
Within a few hours Monday, Fields went from a virtually unknown South Carolina law enforcement officer to the target of nationwide vitriol after a video showed him yanking a student from her desk, slamming her to the ground and throwing her several feet across the floor.
Fields has not responded to CNN’s request for comment, but a student at Spring Valley High School has come to the officer’s defense.
Reginald Seabrooks, one of the students who captured the incident on video, added this comment to his YouTube posting:
“The officer in this is a cool dude, he is not Racist!!!. Girl was asked her to put the phone away, but told teacher no and Administrator was called and asked her to come to his office. She told him no, he then called the resource officer. When he got there he asked her nicely to get up. Over and over he did nothing wrong. They asked her to get up but she wanted to show off. To some it looks bad but she wanted to prove that she was bad.”
CNN confirmed with father Reginald Sr., that these are his son’s words. He also told CNN that Fields was at one point his son’s football coach.
Court documents and a sheriff’s department newsletter offer a study in contrasts.
But here’s what we know about the Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy:
He was sued for allegations of excessive force
In 2007, a couple sued Fields, fellow deputy Joseph Clark and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, alleging false arrest, excessive force and violation of free speech rights in 2005.
According to the complaint, Carlos Edward Martin was driving home and got out of his car when Fields approached him and asked if he was the source of an excessive noise complaint that the officer was investigating.
Martin claimed that Fields “slammed him to the ground, cuffed him, began kicking him, and chemically maced him until his clothing was drenched and the contents of the can of mace was [sic] depleted,” according to court documents.
When Martin’s wife took pictures with her cell phone, Fields told a responding officer to confiscate her phone, according to the lawsuit.
But a jury ruled in favor of Fields.
He faces another lawsuit
Fields is one of 10 defendants in another case, scheduled to go to trial in January.
In that lawsuit, former Spring Valley High School student Ashton James Reese claims he was unlawfully expelled from school in 2013. At the time, Fields was investigating alleged gang activity at the school.
Reese claimed several offenses in the suit, including lack of due process, negligence, negligent supervision and a violation of the right to public education — as mandated by state law.
The jury trial is scheduled for January 27-29 in Columbia, South Carolina.
He has received accolades for his work with students
He was given a Culture of Excellence Award by a Richland County elementary school, where he also worked as a school resource officer in 2014.
“Ben has been working for the Richland County Sheriff’s Office Department since 2004 and joined the School Resource Officer Program in 2008,” a sheriff’s department newsletter said.
“He is assigned to Spring Valley High School as well as Lonnie B. Nelson Elementary School, and has proven to be an exceptional role model to the students he serves and protects.”
He’s barred from schools for now
Fields has been placed on administrative leave and has been told not to return to school while his department investigates what happened.
Richland School District Two Superintendent Dr. Debbie Hamm said officials are working with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in an investigation.
As for the sheriff, Lott is aware of the video and “was very disturbed by it,” his spokesman Lt. Curtis Wilson said.
“He has questions like everyone has — and he wants answers and once he has those answers, he will address them.”
By Holly Yan, Kevin Conlon and John Newsome, CNN
CNN’s Julie In, Miguel Marquez and Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.