Sheriff doesn't think race played a factor in classroom arrest because cop has a black girlfriend
A sheriff whose deputy was filmed dragging a black teenager from her chair says he doesn't think race was a factor because the officer has been "dating an African-American woman for quite some time."
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott spoke at a press conference on Tuesday after the video of Deputy Ben Fields pulling the girl at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina went viral.
"He's been dating an African-American female for quite some time now," Lott said. "So does that have a bearing on his thought process? It may have. But I would think that would have it on a positive way, not on a negative way."
An internal investigation of the video, which Lott called disturbing, is expected to be completed by Wednesday and Lott will determine whether the officer, who is white, keeps his job. The officer has been suspended without pay, authorities said.
Lott added: "It really doesn't matter to me if that child is purple, it's what his actions are and that's what we're concerned about."
Fields has previously been accused of excessive force and targeting black suspects, although Lott said at the press conference that he had not ever seen the deputy exhibiting racist behavior.
More photos from the incident:
The deputy was sued by Carlos Martin, who in 2005 claimed that Fields beat him during a confrontation outside his South Carolina home.
"All the women and children are outside watching him beat me. He takes out a whole can of mace and uses a whole can of mace on me so I did what I was trained as a soldier," Martin, who served as a Sergeant in Iraq, told INSIDE EDITION. "I bury my face in my arms, I close my eyes and I hold my breath."
Martin was charged with a noise violation, disturbing the peace and assaulting an officer, but was found not guilty on all charges, he told IE. He sued Fields, but he said the case was dismissed.
In 2013, a student expelled from the same school accused the deputy of targeting black students for allegedly saying the student was a gang member, but the officer denies the claims. The case is scheduled for trial in January, the Associated Press reported.
In a third lawsuit, a woman accused Fields and another deputy of battery and violating her civil rights during a 2006 arrest. It was dismissed in 2009.
The latest high school incident occurred Monday.
The violent video showed Fields throwing the student from her desk and dragging her across the floor after she reportedly refused to hand over her cell phone.
The girl allegedly did not respond to a request from the officer to stand up, authorities said. He had been called to the room because the student was reportedly acting up in class.
The sheriff said that a third video, which has not been released to the press, shows the girl resisting and hitting the deputy.
Federal investigators have also been brought in to investigate the incident.