A video of a young black student being violently removed from her classroom by a white police officer has sparked outrage across the US. Now the federal government has said it will step in and investigate.
The US Justice Department and the FBI announced on Tuesday that they had opened an investigation into whether the civil rights of a black female high school student were violated during a violent arrest by white police officer.
Mobile phone footage of the arrest shows the girl in a classroom full of students in Columbia, South Carolina, resisting the officer's attempts to pull her out of her desk. The officer, identified as Senior Deputy Ben Fields (pictured above), then flips both the girl and her desk backward onto the floor, throws her toward the front of the classroom and handcuffs her.
Describing the video, which has since gone viral and sparked national outrage, police Sheriff Leon Lott said it "made him want to throw up." Fields has since been suspended without pay.
Lott told the press that student "may have had a rug burn," but that she is otherwise unharmed. He added that the girl can be seen trying to strike the officer in the video, but that it was Fields' actions alone that will decide whether or not he is allowed to remain on the force.
Deputy Fields was called in after the girl was caught texting in class on Monday and refused to hand over her phone. Fields also arrested a second female student who verbally objected to his actions.
Deputy has multiple racial bias complaints
This is not the first time Fields has faced accusations of racial bias and using excessive force. In January Fields must appear before court over allegations he purposely targeted African Americans and falsely accused an expelled student of being a gang member.
In 2005, a grand jury sided with Fields after a black couple brought up an excessive force and battery complaint against him, stemming from a noise complaint the officer received.
Speaking to a group of police chiefs on Tuesday, President Barack Obama voiced his concerns that racial bias amongst officers had gone ignored for too long - but added that he understood worries among police that isolated incidents captured on video could make all police look bad.
"With today's technology, if just one of your officers does something irresponsible, the whole world knows about it moments later," the president said in Chicago.
"And countless incidents of effective police work rarely make it on the evening news, so it's important for us not to just pounce and jump on anything that happens and immediately just draw conclusions."
es/bw (AP, AFP)