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Student walkout backs fired deputy at S.C. school

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/30/2015 Doug Stanglin

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About 100 students at a South Carolina high school walked out of class briefly Friday to show support for a school resource officer fired after video showed him throwing an uncooperative black female student across the floor, according to local media and Twitter feeds.

The students walked out of classes at Spring Valley HIgh School in Columbia, S.C., around 10 a.m. and gathered in the atrium to express their views on the firing of Deputy Ben Fields.

Some in the crowd — which included both black and white students  — wore T-shirts reading "Free Fields" or  "#BringBackFields."

 Some students had originally said their intent was to walk out of the building, but the students did not leave the campus, WLTX-TV reports.

In this Monday, Oct, 26, 2015 photo made from video taken by a Spring Valley High School student, Senior Deputy Ben Fields tries to forcibly remove a student who 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. © AP Photo In this Monday, Oct, 26, 2015 photo made from video taken by a Spring Valley High School student, Senior Deputy Ben Fields tries to forcibly remove a student who 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. Spring Valley High Principal Jeff Temoney sent a letter to parents afterward saying that the students were back in class within 10 minutes and that class continued in a "safe and productive manner."

"I addressed the students to let them know that we understood their need to make their voices heard," Temoney wrote, according to WLTX. "Then I reminded them that Spring Valley High is all about the business of teaching and learning, so it's time to go back to class."

School district officials told WCSC-TV that the walkout was "small" and "orderly."

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott fired Fields on Wednesday, saying the school resource officer did not follow the department's guidelines when he forcibly removed a black female student from a classroom Monday. Lott specifically said the deputy, who is white, broke protocol when he threw the student across the class.

In Temoney's remarks to the students, captured on video, he stresses that none would be suspended over the walkout.

"We've heard your voices, okay," the administrator told the protesters. "We appreciate you taking time to do this, but again, as you know, we always focus on teaching and learning, so let's head on back to class." 

The footage of the original incident sparked a national debate on the officer's actions.

In the original confrontation on Monday, Fields can be heard telling the student to get up. A few moments later, he grabbed the student as she was in her seat, which caused the girl and the chair to flip over onto the floor. Fields was then seen dragging the girl for several feet and restraining her on the ground.

Lott said Fields had the right to put his hands on the student, but that when he threw the girl across the room, that is when he violated the training.

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation into the incident

In a statement, Scott Hayes, Fields' attorney thanked people Friday for their support, adding "the positive response and heartfelt support of Ben has been overwhelming," WCSC-TV reports.

Hayes continued, "We believe that Mr. Fields' actions were justified and lawful throughout the circumstances of which he was confronted during this incident. To that extent, we believe that Mr. Fields' actions were carried out professionally and that he was performing his job duties within the legal threshold."

Fields was a deputy for 10 years, and also served as an assistant coach for the Spring Valley High football team.

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