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Sheriff's Deputy Who Tossed Student is Fired

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Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott speaks at a press conference in Columbia, S.C., Oct. 27, 2015. Lott suspended Ben Fields, a senior deputy with the department, without pay after a video showed Fields using force to remove a student from a classroom.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott speaks at a press conference in Columbia, S.C., Oct. 27, 2015. Lott suspended Ben Fields, a senior deputy with the department, without pay after a video showed Fields using force to remove a student from a classroom.

A South Carolina sheriff's deputy who flipped a student backward in her desk and tossed her across the floor for refusing to leave math class was fired Wednesday after a quick yet thorough internal investigation, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Wednesday.

Lott said his decision to fire Senior Deputy Ben Fields was based solely on the deputy's actions, not the student's, in Monday's altercation in Columbia, S.C.

Fields "did not follow proper training and did not follow proper procedures when he threw [the student] across the room," Lott said, adding that the video of the incident gave him "heartburn."

“Even though she was wrong for disturbing the class, even though she refused to abide by the directions of the teacher, the school administrator and also the verbal commands of our deputy, I’m looking at what our deputy did,” the sheriff said.

This undated photo provided by the Richland County (S.C.) Sheriff's Department shows school resource officer Senior Deputy Ben Fields, in Columbia, S.C.

This undated photo provided by the Richland County (S.C.) Sheriff's Department shows school resource officer Senior Deputy Ben Fields, in Columbia, S.C.

"Denying that this was a very terrible incident will not accomplish anything," he said, "so we're not denying that."

However, Lott said it should be viewed as a learning opportunity. "This is a time to build bridges, not tear them down."

Video of harsh arrest

Videos taken by students and posted online show Fields warning the girl to leave her seat or be forcibly removed Monday after she apparently texted in class and refused to surrender her phone to the teacher.

When she doesn't get up from her desk, the officer wraps a forearm around her neck, flips her and the desk backward onto the floor, tosses her toward the front of the classroom and handcuffs her.

The videos of the confrontation between a white officer and black girl stirred such outrage that Lott called the FBI and Justice Department for help.

Asked how the deputy should have handled the situation, Lott first responded that Fields shouldn't have tossed the student. But he added, the first thing officers should use in such situations is verbal communication.

At the beginning of the incident, the student "wasn't a danger. She was noncompliant and disrespectful," he said.

However, when officers have to put their hands on a person, "there are techniques that are taught ... pain complaince," Lott said. "Throwing someone across the room is not pain compliance."

Investigation

Earlier Wednesday, the sheriff said of the investigation, "We're going to handle it appropriately and we're going to handle it very quickly. This is not something that should drag out.

"I think the public demands and expects and should get a very quick answer on this, and that's what we're going to do," said Lott, who repeated the phrase during the noontime news conference.

The sheriff noted that the two other adults in the math classroom on Monday - the teacher and a school administrator - told investigators Fields' actions Monday were acceptable.

WATCH: Video of South Carolina high school student's arrest

The sheriff suspended Fields without pay Monday.

'Sorry,' not remorseful

Lott said while the deputy was "sorry" the incident occurred as it did, he wouldn't characterize Fields as remorseful.

"He tried to do his job and that’s what he feels like he did," Lott said. "His actions was something that if he probably had to do it over again, he’d probably do it different."

Fields also arrested a second girl who verbally objected to his actions Monday. Both girls were charged with disturbing schools and released to their parents. Their names were not officially released.

Lott also praised the students whose videos put such an intense spotlight on his deputy's actions.

"I can't fix problems if I don't know about it," he said. "I would say that every citizen with a camera, if they see something that's going on that disturbs them, they should film it. Our citizens should police us."

Injuries in dispute

Earlier, Lott said the girl "may have had a rug burn" but was not injured.

However, a laywer for the student said on Wednesday that the girl was injured during the altercation.

"She now has a cast on her arm, she has neck and back injuries. She has a Band-Aid on her forehead where she suffered rug burn on her forehead," Columbia attorney Todd Rutherford said Wednesday.

Email, phone and text messages for Fields were not returned.

Lt. Curtis Wilson told The Associated Press in an email Wednesday to "keep in mind this is not a race issue."

"Race is indeed a factor," countered South Carolina's NAACP president, Lonnie Randolph Jr., who praised the Justice Department for agreeing to investigate.

"To be thrown out of her seat as she was thrown, and dumped on the floor. ... I don't ever recall a female student who is not of color (being treated this way). It doesn't affect white students," Randolph said.

The sheriff, for his part, said race won't factor into his evaluation: "It really doesn't matter to me whether that child had been purple," Lott said.

Cars sit in the parking lot, Oct. 27, 2015, in Columbia S.C. The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation Tuesday after Senior Deputy Ben Fields flipped a student backward in her desk and tossed her across the floor for refusing to leave her

Cars sit in the parking lot, Oct. 27, 2015, in Columbia S.C. The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation Tuesday after Senior Deputy Ben Fields flipped a student backward in her desk and tossed her across the floor for refusing to leave her

Tony Robinson Jr., who recorded the final moments, said it all began when the teacher asked the girl to hand over her phone during class. She refused, so he called an administrator, who summoned the officer.

"The administrator tried to get her to move and pleaded with her to get out of her seat," Robinson told a local television station. "She said she really hadn't done anything wrong. She said she took her phone out, but it was only for a quick second, you know, please, she was begging, apologetic."

Previous accusations

Previously, Fields, who also helped coach the Spring Valley football team, has prevailed against accusations of excessive force and racial bias.

Trial is set for January in the case of an expelled student who claims Fields targeted blacks and falsely accused him of being a gang member in 2013.

In another case, a federal jury sided with Fields after a black couple accused him of excessive force and battery during a noise complaint arrest in 2005.

A third lawsuit, dismissed in 2009, involved a woman who accused him of battery and violating her rights during a 2006 arrest.

Some material for this report came from AP.

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