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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.
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Patrol

Abdicating Law Enforcement Leadership

The anti-police bias of the media and the political expediency of a South Carolina sheriff have led to a massive injustice against a school resource officer.

November 03, 2015  |  by Randy Sutton - Also by this author

In the latest incident of a police leader abandoning his leadership role in favor of political expediency, the Sheriff of Richland County, SC, has handed over what would normally be a routine internal use-of-force investigation to the U.S. Department of Justice making it into the proverbial federal case.

Because of a few seconds of video shot in a classroom of an arrest of a black female high school student by a white police officer, the anti-police rhetoric machine has been thrust into overdrive. It’s amazing how easily the public can be manipulated by a social media savvy cartel of behind the scenes political organizations. By bombarding the public with a snippet of inflammatory video along with “shocked and outraged” commentary by ill-informed and/or biased “experts," the mainstream media becomes complicit in pouring gasoline onto the flames of misinformation. And once again, it is the police who have to swim upstream into a current flooded by anti-blue bias, manipulated narratives and little comprehension of police use of force. It is the classic no-win situation for law enforcement, similar to the “when did you stop beating your wife” question designed to portray the person answering the question in the worst possible light.

In the case at hand, a 16-year-old female student (who the media reported as a young girl) was asked by her teacher to do the “unthinkable" and put her cellphone away while class was in session. The student refused because after all she apparently has the inalienable right to do whatever she pleases and has no need to allow other students in her class to actually try and learn something.

After repeated attempts to gain the student's acceptance of what she clearly felt to be such an unusual and unreasonable request, the teacher summoned a school administrator for help. A negotiation ensued in which the oh-so-put-upon student refused to cooperate and when told to leave the classroom refused to do that as well. By this time, having exhausted all their options, the frustrated teacher and administrator asked for help from the deputy assigned to the school as a school resource officer. He came in and once again politely asked the student to leave and explained her options, including that she would be arrested if she did not comply. The student, apparently afflicted by the virus of non-compliance infecting a number of people throughout the country, refused. The Officer then placed her under arrest, forcibly put her on the floor and handcuffed her as she grabbed and punched him. Another female student knowing that half the class was videotaping this confrontation had to get herself involved and was also arrested while interfering with the arrest.

When this took place, there were no complaints of injuries. But within days, the 16-year-old was in a cast and her attorney (I’m shocked to report) claimed she suffered neck, back, and psychological  injuries.

It should have ended there, but not in today’s reality of police vilification. The video was picked up by several groups who amazingly, have been waging an active social media campaign against police and once again the media circus had come to another town. Now that the storm of controversy has brought forth gale force winds of anti-police hysteria, the school district whose employees tried and failed to negotiate with the self-entitled and non-compliant student to begin with has publically condemned the officer and announced an investigation into his conduct, also banning him from the school where he also happened to be a volunteer football coach. The sheriff, within hours and before any investigation was completed, came out publically and condemned the officer, and in a complete abdication of his role as head of the organization, asked the FBI to conduct an investigation. Worse, before the investigation was complete, he suspended the deputy without pay immediately and then fired him within days, publically denouncing the deputy for not following policy as he caved into the political firestorm.

For those who are not familiar with the way internal use-of-force investigations normally take place at most law enforcement agencies, I will explain why this is so egregious. In the normal process, a complaint is made against an officer by anyone, the person against whom the use of force was applied, a witness, a loved one of that person or even another officer. Statements are taken, witnesses are interviewed, evidence is gathered, and a conclusion is reached by the investigators. It is a time-consuming endeavor in the best of circumstances because even a police officer is generally accorded some rights and the conclusion of the investigation may have life-changing ramifications. So when the sheriff announced that this investigation would be completed within 24 hours, I and anyone familiar with the way these investigations should be conducted knew that this was going to be a witch hunt and this officer’s fate was sealed.

Police use of force is the most misunderstood and misrepresented aspect of policing. It is a product of training, experience, supervision, department policy and judgment. Officers are given latitude in the application of use of force because there is no magic bullet to gain compliance through its use. There are so many factors that must be considered that King Solomon himself would be challenged when weighing how much force is appropriate when taking a combative suspect into custody. Use of force is always ugly to watch. And every time an officer goes hands-on with someone, the possibility of injury up to and including death is present. If it is determined that the use of force was excessive, then a number of factors are normally taken into consideration for the punishment. The officer's past record of conduct, his or her training record, the mindset of the officer at the time are also taken into consideration and, usually at the end of the day, “progressive discipline" is applied should it be found that the use of force was excessive.

Imagine this. If the deputy had decided to use pepper spray or a TASER to take the student into custody, I believe the optics of that would have led to exactly the same results. Not because the use of force was excessive but because it has become politically expedient to sacrifice officers and publically burn them at the stake for the sake of appeasement.

It is ironic that the same week that this debacle took place, the director of the FBI addressed the largest organization of law enforcement leaders in the nation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the IACP conference in Chicago. During that speech, he addressed the increase in murders and violent crime in many of America’s cities and cited as one of the causes, the pullback of police officers who are afraid for their careers should they be videotaped doing anything that could be perceived as excessive. This is a concept that pretty much every street cop knows. Amazingly, many of the chiefs and even Department of Justice representatives came out publically denying that this was a factor in the rise of violent crime, a clear illustration of either the ostrich effect of simple denial or the all-too-present political gamesmanship that is spreading among America's law enforcement leadership.

At the end of the day, the South Carolina school incident will become another rallying cry for those whose political and racial agendas plague our nation and our police. 


Comments (17)

Displaying 1 - 17 of 17

Donna Haverty @ 11/3/2015 4:26 PM

You are absolutely right Randy,this deputy didn't stand a chance.He was thrown under the bus by the school and his chief.Shame on the school for even putting him in that situation,the principal should have taken care of it himself but he didn't want to lose his job so he called the deputy.As for the gofund they have for this entitled brat,it's disgusting.That will just make her think she's really untouchable,not to mention what it will make others do.Anything for a quick,easy buck.I'm sick of people video taping everything,then the media only shows you what they want you to see.God bless all of you LEO'S,Thank You for what you do.

Leon Lott @ 11/3/2015 5:48 PM

Sadly this article is written by Monday morning quarterbacks who do not the facts. As the Sheriff it is my responsibility to make informed decisions after having obtaining all the facts. The use of force was fully investigated by Internal Affairs and our Training Division. There was no timetable placed on them to complete their investigations. Their investigations revealed my deputy violated our policy. It is then my responsibility to make a decision and it was my decision. Social media, mainstream media, political groups and Monday morning quarterbacks have no influence in my decision. Doing what is right is only influence on me.
Don't criticize something you don't know the facts about but only what you have seen in the media.

Jackie Sawyer @ 11/3/2015 6:51 PM

I live in the UK but I am noticing that a lot of cases seem to getting handled a little different to what you would of expected, can signup for your email it will be I testing to see which way the winds blowing

William Archuleta @ 11/4/2015 7:34 AM

I agree with everything you have just stated, except for one thing. When the officer had her on the ground and got her apart from her k he should have cuffed her right then. We would not be having this Discussion. He chose to fling her across the floor thereby losing contact with her. If she had a weapon that's when she could have reached. Now i'm no police officer, but I sure as hell would not want separation from someone I haven't patted down yet. I think that's where he made his mistake.

Jaime C @ 11/4/2015 8:44 AM

@Leon Lott I could understand your position if the article discussed was in fact written by a "Monday Morning quarterback" as you suggested. Someone not in the profession of LE may believe that, however for those who are in LE know better. 31 years of the profession hardly constitutes Monday Morning quarterback status.

Natalie Davenport Teeger @ 11/4/2015 9:07 AM

As assistant to a private investigator who's worked with the San Francisco Police Department for the last ten years, I have to say that Mr. Sutton is spot on in every one of his claims.

Sheriff Leon Lott made a very poor decision when handling this investigation. Rather than conducting a thorough investigation, he caved to media pressure and threw one of his own men under the bus. For this, Lott is a disgrace to Richland County and a complete disgrace to law enforcement in general.

Deputy Fields performed the duties that he was required to do. And why should he be the one getting the pink slip? There was a similar video of a cop getting into an altercation with a student at that same school last year and there wasn't any outrage then and we don't know if he lost his job or not. Why? Because that was a black cop dealing with a black student, and it didn't fit the mainstream media's biased "white cop-on-black-uncooperative-individual" agenda.

Natalie Davenport Teeger @ 11/4/2015 9:14 AM

@Leon Lott: You did not do what was right. You did what you perceived as easy - cave to pressure to pacify the vocal minority so that you can stand on firmer ground when the next election cycle comes around.

That being said, Sheriff Lott, I'm going to ask you what me, my boss, my boss's wife, and everyone in the real law enforcement community wants to know: exactly what policy did Deputy Ben Fields violate? Also, where's the training video on how to properly extract an uncooperative student from her desk? The way Mr. Sutton describes it, you sound like the "Monday morning quarterback" here. And Mr. Sutton has worked in law enforcement for over 31 years, and I'm pretty sure 31 years of experience as a cop hardly constitutes "Monday morning quarterback" status at that.

Dan Jennings @ 11/4/2015 9:18 AM

Sheriff Lott, YOU are the Monday morning QB! You immediately caved to the social media frenzy and fired a deputy in less than 48 hours. You have endeared yourself to the anti-police movement, but you are now a pariah within law enforcement circles. Please advise us WHAT policy Fields violated and take this opportunity to produce a training video on how to extricate a combative suspect from a student desk. I hope you are properly rewarded with whatever agenda or higher office you seek. BTW, have someone (preferably one who writes at the tenth-grade level or higher) proofread your work.

Paul C @ 11/4/2015 10:13 AM

What about the third video, are they going to reopen this investigation? I feel, he will be eating crow! There is no way they completed this investigation in such a short period of time. Hell it would have taken two months just to get the statements from all the people in room! What is sad, is his letter shows his level of incompetence and why he needs to be removed from office!

Pup @ 11/4/2015 3:07 PM

Sheriff, you are a disgrace to your agency. I've been doing this job 38 years and I yet, haven't seen a full blown investigation conclude within 48 hours of the incident. A good Sheriff would bench the officer pending the conclusion of the entire investigation. I sure hope the officer seeks a good attorney and sues you and the city. By the way, what policy did the officer violate that caused him to lose his job? Last question; How would you have handled it, Sheriff?

Kendra Marybeth Davenport @ 11/4/2015 3:35 PM

1) What policy did the deputy violate? Please include the whole policy and your whole use of force policy.

2) Does the extrication of an uncooperative female subject from a confined area then taken to ground and restrained constitute a use of force under policies and procedures?

3) What training do your deputies receive in control holds, take downs, and handcuffing every 24 months?

4) What training does your agency provider to school resource officers on top of your State mandated requirements for a law enforcement officer?

5) Have you ever been accused of a violation of policy in which your use of force was questioned? If yes, what was the disposition of said charge? Did you agree with the investigations findings? How long did that or any other investigation in wrongdoing you personally faced take?

Just a few questions I came up with in five minutes after reading Sheriff Lott's response.

Prohibitedweapon @ 11/4/2015 5:30 PM

@Leon Lott as a LEO professional I believe you have irreparably damaged your reputation and the relationship between you and your employees. It's doubtful you'll ever regain their trust. This incident and the alleged internal investigation is your defining moment, and not in a good way. It shows a distinct lack of testicular fortitude. You took the easy way out. Now live with it.

Jim Poston @ 11/5/2015 12:11 AM

As a life long resident of Richland County, I stand behind my Sheriff even though I truly believe that Deputy Fields termination was a knee jerk response to a situation that should have never occurred. SRO's should never be used in disciplining students, which is exactly what this situation was. Neither the teacher or the administrator could handle the situation in which both should have been properly trained to do. This was not a racial thing as played out in the media. No where in all the reporting did you once hear that Deputy (or ex-deputy now) Fields is currently dating a black woman. It barely made the news when 100's of students, majority black students, peacefully protested the firing of Fields by staging a "walk out" from their classes. But, Fields was terminated for NOT following proper procedure which is to NEVER release or unhand an individual once you place them under arrest. That is undeniable.

Kendra Marybeth Davenport @ 11/5/2015 12:40 PM

@Jim Poston- I believe that the SRO was not being used to discipline the student, just remove her from the classroom.

Cristina de la Torre @ 11/6/2015 10:10 AM

The sheriff disgusts me. He is an embarrassment to the profession and the reason there is such a huge disconnect between juveniles & leo's. What a weak, spineless excuse for a man.

Dave M55 @ 11/15/2015 10:01 PM

I have followed Randy Sutton's work for many years and I have the utmost respect for his article above! His article is not Monday morning quarterbacking he is stating solid investigative facts in UOF...

Well said! Dave

MNteach @ 11/30/2015 5:12 PM

The deputy was treated unfairly by losing his career over this incident. This political correctness is a growing epidemic in the public schools where I have taught for 20 years. Several years back, our high school's assigned officer stood by and did nothing while 5 gang bangers, ages 16-19 began a horrendous fight with younger kids in the hallway. Our then school psychologist, god bless Marshall's soul, was the only one to engage and stop the bloodshed. The following week, he was also the only one to stand up, and hold the school accountable. He reported the gang member student that held a cocked 1911 to another kid's head. We were told to keep quiet due to "special education is looking at a behavior disorder eligibility so he's not expelled and there are attorneys involved" The result_ Marshall's contract was terminated. Political correctness and then caving to the media's hype has to stop. We are losing good people in all fields because of this liberal virus.

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