Steve Fuji closely studies the video on his laptop as he smokes his third cigarette and drinks green tea. The 77-year-old Japanese American is a sixth-degree black belt and teaches compliance techniques for the Orange and Los Angeles County probation departments, as well as a number of school district police agencies. Compliance techniques specialize in training officers to use pressure points to cause non-damaging pain that force compliance.
Fuji is observing Spring Valley High School’s Deputy Ben Fields in action. Fuji says the deputy appears to be displaying his strength and the power of his beefy physique, as he throws a young Black female student about like a rag doll. Fuji thinks Field’s display of intimidation probably scares the other kids watching the interaction in a way that allows him to control their behavior and have a easy shift.
Fuji’s observation may be valid, according to several media sources. Some of the terrified Spring Valley High School students told the outlets that his aggressive conduct, had previously earned him the nickname “The Incredible Hulk.”
Fields is described as a behemoth conditioning coach, who could squat a whopping 940 pounds and bench press at least 600 pounds. There was a YouTube page, that has since been deleted, showing him squatting as fellow lifters chant “Hulk,” “Hulk.”
Fuji is accompanied by his female training assistant as we sat outside Starbucks on Western and Slauson avenues. They both agreed to demonstrate compliance techniques that could have been used on the young lady when she refused to get up and leave her math class.
Fuji says the grips and holds are painful but harmless. The 125-pound trainer drops his cigarette into the cup of green tea and stands up to demonstrate. He instructs me to try remain seated as he attempts to make me stand up. Then Fuji grabs my right wrist with his left hand, and his left hand quickly slides into the space between my thumb and pointer finger. As I try to break loose, he bends my index finger, and I feel unbearable pain travel up my arm. Keep in mind that while he is doing this, I am trying to break away. However, due to the pain, he has control of my entire body. I immediately stand up.
Fuji believes most peace officers know these compliance techniques. Juvenile probation officers working in detention centers are required to know them to control a non-compliant ward. He believes the student resource officer should have been trained and able to use compliance techniques as opposed to brute force. School police are not hired at to deal with disciplinary problems like this, Fuji said. They are there to deal with crime, violence etc. He believes the South Carolina incident should have been handled by the teacher and the administration. If a student refuses to leave, Fuji said the procedure should be to move the rest of the students to another open classroom, call her parents and tell them they need to immediately come to the school to deal with their child.
Then the school should suspend her. Fuji said, “This was not a place for a cop to be called. That is not why they are hired. I believe this guy [Fields] is considered their ‘secret weapon’ and from time to time the administration releases him on disruptive kids based on his modus operandi. I just have that gut-level feeling.”
Retired Los Angeles Unified School District police officer Randy Collins, an African American, disagrees with Fuji’s suggestion to remove all the students from the classroom and call her parents. “You do not put her on a throne and empower her.”
When Collins was questioned about what happened on the campus of Spring Valley High, his response was: “As a school police [officer], he [Fields] should have told the school administration ‘I will not handle your administrative duty, it is up to you to deal with the minor. I am not getting involved.’ Because once you get involved in something that is not in your policy and procedure manual, you are in a quagmire, damned if you do damned if you don’t.”
Collins also felt that Fields appeared to have been an officer who may have once patrolled the streets prior to being assigned to that campus based on his aggressiveness. Although you may have a department with 400 officers assigned to schools, there is a difference between an officer working at a school and those patrolling around a campus.
Being on the streets patrolling school neighborhoods is a different type of job assignment compared to being assigned to a school campus, Collins said. The two jobs require different skills and a whole different mindset. Most school police officers driving juvenile cars (J cars) on the streets prefer not to work inside a school campus. That’s like putting an airport cops on the city streets, said Collins. “It will not work. He is going to be accustomed to working around airports. Working on a campus requires empathy, an asset street cops do not have.
“When you look at the video, you have no idea what may have transpired prior to the confrontation. I mean a lot of fingers are in this. You have no idea, what frame of mind he was in prior to the incident or what frame of mind was the [student] was in. She could have said something prior to the video recording that pissed him off. Whatever the circumstances are, a police officer who has a history of being on a campus would have responded differently, said Collins.
Collins was asked if law enforcement agencies benefit from being on campus. He replied, Los Angeles Unified Police has 750 miles of city to patrol. Such a large area allows district officers to interact with the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department which uses SROs and the LAPD, who drive J cars.
Collins says he believes Fields may have got caught up and not followed procedure as it related to use of force. He also knows many White school police officers who are not racists but have made a poor choice in the heat of an incident and lost their jobs.
Another issue SROs may have in addition to interacting with students when they are street cops versus attempting to do administrative discipline is “feeding the school-to-prison pipeline,” says Criminologist Peter Price, who published the article “When is a Police Officer an Officer of the Law: The Status of Police Officers in Schools” (Winter 2009) in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. The article investigated how a very large percentage of poor children of color across the United States are more likely to have higher rates of arrests on campus in comparison to their White peers.
Price wrote that the school-to-prison pipeline is being fed by arrests made by police officers who have, in recent decades, proliferated in districts nationwide. The mass deployment of school cops, commonly referred to as “school resource officers,” (SROs) has been made without careful thought or research into the practice, he noted. Price said minors are being introduced to being arrested and convicted of a crime at an early age, and it has produced horrible outcomes of mass incarceration.
More than likely a young minority youth will have a greater chance of being arrested for something because only the poorest students have more police in their schools. Price said the biggest impact of police in schools is that more “disorderly conduct” charges are levied against those minority students. These are the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This pipeline also reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education, Price points out.
As the South Carolina incident unfolded, we received a press release that Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced Wednesday that SRO Officer Fields had been relieved of duty based on the allegation that he did not follow policy and procedure codes in the school district.
Criminologist Price added that “we live in an era that requires schools to have peace officers on the grounds of and around our public schools. These peace officers have been equipped with physical and mechanical restraints, tasers, guns, and the power to arrest. However, we must determine how to make sure when these well-equipped officers interact with students, incidents like the one at Spring Valley High School [don’t] happen.”
South Carolina residents offer their thoughts on Spring Valley incident
[Charles Brown,] assistant director of a Columbia, S.C. nonprofit, wants to make it clear that racial relations in his community are not negative. Spring Valley High school is predominantly Black (52 percent Black, 34.1 percent White, and 6.8 percent Hispanic). He believes the school is a model of amicable integration, where students of divergent backgrounds socialize together.
Brown’s daughter is currently a college student and was a 2012 graduate of Spring Valley. According to him, she never had any racial issues, and it was a subject he would often discuss with her.
He believes she has come to the conclusion that the incident, “is what it is.”
What bothers Brown most about the incident is the fact that if you are 16 or older in South Carolina, such an incident would involve a full arrest and result in a criminal record, if the courts find you guilty.
[Ulysses Will Williams] professor of Mass Communications at Voorhees College, which is located in Denmark, S.C., believes the incident can only be described as brutal and Deputy Fields’ behavior can only be described as “interaction overboard.”
The Spring Valley alumnus also believes you have to understand that high school students or any teenage individual has a tendency to test the limits of authority. “That helps us identify who we are, and we all are guilty of testing authority during our teen years.
“When you have teenagers on campus testing their authority and an on-campus enforcing authority [coupled] with an enforced ‘no tolerance’ policy, it is a dangerous combination, and it will create a problem like we have witnessed with the 16 year old involved in the incident.
“What’s devastating is when the school resource officer is involved, it can often lead to a conviction
school faculty would considered study-hall appropriate punishment.
“What’s also devastating is when young African American kids see this video, they are going to be against police at an early age and may feel they are not welcome at Spring Valley High.”
South Carolina State Sen. Ronnie A Sabb, does not want to rush to conclusions about the situation. He says “the video is disturbing; it has the appearance of an use of extreme excessive force. The officer has been fired, and there is a possibility that [the student’s] civil rights were violated. I am sure when the Federal Bureau of Investigation gets involved, [the bureau] will take a prudent approach and get all the facts.”
Sabb did go on to comment that “school resource officers should have specialized training to handle situations with children. That training can determine how situations like Spring Valley can be handled. Their training should encompass two things, “to protect and serve.”
The senator is passionate about passing legislation to make sure school resource officers are trained in protecting kids, and sensitive to interfacing with youth in forms of de escalation.
Rev. Clyde Holliday, pastor of Turkey Branch Missionary Baptist Church and social worker for the South Carolina Department of Corrections, believes that police officers enforcing school policy is not a good idea. He understands that they are necessary in dealing with outside threats like the Columbine High School massacre (1999). “If you look at the situation where the young lady refused to give up her cell phone, the incident involved interaction with a teacher, then an administrator, and finally a school resource officer. What should have followed the interaction with the administrator and the student is intervention with a school counselor and then a school social worker. I do not believe in corporal punishment.
“My daughter, who teaches at that school, believes it was a simple power struggle between a student and teacher. The student was being resistant to the teacher’s request to put up her cell phone. My daughter believes the girl did not want to be embarrassed in front of her friends, because sometimes minority children feel that’s all they have. Now she may still face corporal punishment.”
Rev. Holliday said that in taking the pulse of the community, he believes a large number of African Americans are upset with the parents of the 16 year old for not teaching her to respect authority.
The pastor has a long history of working with Superintendent Debbie Hamm, Ph.D., and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, and believes they are great individuals and will see that a thorough investigation takes place. (Since this interview, SRO Fields has been fired).
South Carolina State Sen. John Scott Jr., Feels great about having Interim Superintendent of District Two Debbie Hamm, Ph.D., in place now to investigate this incident. “She has more than 30 years experience and is a beautiful lady. When describing District Two, you have to realize it isn’t the Old South. It is a residential neighborhood for military families, and it is populated with mixed race couples.” Scott believes the major issue was that a police officer was involved in student misconduct. He feels this is the result of police being on campus to protect kids from atrocities like school shootings.
“In viewing enhanced versions of the video, it is apparent that School Resources Officer Fields got out of control in dealing with a 15- or 16-year-old girl playing with her cell phone.
The teacher of that class is familiar with this students and realized this particular math class contained students who had the ability to exhibit problems. He should have ignored the student and dealt with the situation after class rather than get the SRO involved, because his presence created a show-of-power situation that the student had to exhibit to her peers in the class.
Scott added that after viewing the enhanced video, the rage on SRO’s face showed that the only way to stop this guy was to wound him. What the video does not show you is the girl laying on the ground immobile from being knocked unconscious or being immobile from shock.
“Now, we are concerned about the possibility that this child has suffered bodily and mental damage.
“Another issue is the ‘no tolerance’ policy as opposed to using counseling. Just because this child has been considered a troubled kid [in the past] doesn’t mean she can’t change.
“The excessive force is what the community is upset about.”