What Is Reasonable Force Against Students?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 27, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A brutal video surfaced yesterday of a white male school resource officer in South Carolina slamming a black female student to the ground and arresting her while she was seated at her desk. The officer was placed on administrative leave and there is an internal investigation ongoing.

Following this incident, many are wondering: What constitutes an appropriate use of force against students in a school setting?

School security and school resource officers have become an ever-present component of high school life, but what are the rules and regulations that control their behavior?

Classroom Combat

Here is the video, from multiple angles, of Richland County Sheriff's Deputy Ben Fields dragging a female Spring Valley High School student out of her desk and arresting her:

Initially, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott defended the arrest, saying, "The student was told she was under arrest for disturbing school and given instructions which she again refused. The video then shows the student resisting and being arrested by the SRO." But Columbia's WISTV.com is reporting that the FBI will investigate the incident.

School Security and Student Resource Officers

The issue of physical force against students came up in March, when video showed school security officers in Oakland attacking a high school student. In that case, the officers were hired, trained, and supervised by the Oakland Unified School District, which had authority to police the school and its own officers. Even so, an OUSD officer was charged with felony corporal injury to a child in another incident.

In this case, Fields is a sheriff's deputy working on assignment in the school. Salon.com is reporting that he is also a defensive line coach and a strength training and conditioning coach for the football team. So Fields may be liable for police brutality under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act as a member of law enforcement, or liable under South Carolina's corporal punishment statutes as a school employee.

The levels of force permitted against students in a school setting can come down to who is using the force and their relationship to the school. Fields will probably be the subject of a civil lawsuit, which won't be his first -- he was accused last year of unfairly targeting black students as gang members.

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