Police search of a Delaware State University female athletics team has drawn national outrage
Delaware’s governor and members of Congress express outrage over conduct of Georgia sheriff’s deputies who stopped the team bus of the historically Black school
Deputies administered detailed hand search of the belongings the female student athletes, along with a drug-sniffing police K-9 unit
The stop took place 0n April 20, as the DSU women’s lacrosse team was traveling home from a game in Florida
School’s president said what began “under the pretext of a minor traffic violation” became an attempt by law enforcement officials [in Georgia], “to intimidate our student-athletes into confessing to possession of drugs”
DSU has contacted Delaware Gov. John Carney, other state officials to seek possible recourse “legal and otherwise,” school president Tony Allen said
The bus of the women’s lacrosse team was pulled over last month by Georgia sheriff’s deputies and searched by a drug-sniffing dog. Delaware officials called video of the search “disturbing.”
Delaware’s governor and members of Congress expressed outrage on Monday over the conduct of Georgia sheriff’s deputies who stopped the bus of a team returning to a historically Black school and searched students’ belongings with a drug-sniffing dog.
Body camera footage posted on YouTube shows how the Delaware State University’s women’s lacrosse team bus undergoing a search for drugs after initially being pulled over for a potential traffic violation. The nearly 22-minute body camera video shows one of the deputies telling the bus passengers, “Ladies, we don’t single anybody out. I’ll explain. This is our job. .
“This is what we do. Every day we get out here and we stop commercial vehicles. Believe it or not, the majority of the drugs and large amounts of money, trafficking children, trafficking anything up and down these interstates is what we look for.”
“Today we are not saying that it’s even happening here, but however, this is how we start an investigation,” he continued.
“If there is anything in y’all’s luggage we’re probably going to find it,” the deputy said.
He then asked the passengers to tell him if they had anything questionable and explained that any amount of marijuana is illegal in Georgia.
The team from a historically Black college is now alleging racial profiling.
The stop took place in April, as the women’s lacrosse team of Delaware State University was traveling home from a game in Florida, the school’s president said. An account of the incident was published last week in the student newspaper.
Deputies are then seen going through bags, searching makeup kits and other items inside of them. They searched a number of bags that appeared to contain highly personal items. The young women’s underwear, make up bags, prescription medicine, etc. were searched.
Police Search Delaware State University’s Women’s Lacrosse Team Bus For Drugs
One of the student athletes had a wrapped gift from her aunt in her bag. The officer removed it and questioned her about its contents.
When told it was intended as a surprise to be opened when she got back to school, the deputy went ahead with searching the package which he opened and removed the contents, before repacking it and returning it to her luggage.
Eventually, a deputy gets back on the bus and tells the passengers nothing illegal was found.
“Ladies, thank you. We’re going to get out of here. You guys enjoy the rest of your trip,” he said.
DSU president, Tony Allen, called the incident a “humiliating process” and said the university is “exploring options for recourse — legal and otherwise — available to our student-athletes, our coaches, and the University.
In a statement released on Monday, Tony Allen, the university’s president, said that what began “under the pretext of a minor traffic violation” became an attempt by law enforcement officials “to intimidate our student-athletes into confessing to possession of drugs.”
He said the university had contacted the governor of Delaware, John Carney, and other state officials to seek possible recourse “legal and otherwise.”
Nothing illegal was discovered in the search, he said. Governor Carney, in a statement on Monday, called a video of the stop taken by a team member “upsetting, concerning, and disappointing.” He said his office would “do everything we can” to help the university find out more about what happened.
In a separate statement, Delaware’s senators, Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and its representative, Lisa Blunt Rochester, called the images and video of the stop “deeply disturbing.” They said they “strongly support” Mr. Allen’s decision to “go wherever the evidence leads” and offered their offices’ help.
The law enforcement officers involved were part of the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, said Carlos Holmes, a spokesman for the university.
Sheriff William Bowman of Liberty County said at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon that his office was reviewing the stop. Deputies searched the team’s bus when a drug-sniffing dog was “alerted” by it, he said, noting that they stopped other commercial vehicles that day, including a different bus on which they found drugs.
“I do not exercise racial profiling, allow racial profiling or encourage racial profiling,” Sheriff Bowman said, adding that he believed the stop was legal. Still, he said that he wanted to solicit feedback from the team and the community on how the sheriff’s office could improve its practices.
Delaware State University is a historically Black university, and about 70 percent of the team members are Black, according to its coach, Pamella Jenkins.
The team bus was returning to Delaware from a game in Florida on the morning of April 20 when the police in Georgia stopped the bus driver, Ms. Jenkins said in an interview. The driver pulled over and off a highway exit ramp, she said, and an officer came on board, saying the bus was wrongly driving in the left lane.
Within five minutes, she said, one of the student athletes called attention to officers pulling backpacks, team duffel bags and other belongings out from underneath the bus — for inspection by a drug-sniffing dog. Then, two officers came onto the bus announcing a drug search in an interaction that Ms. Jenkins, who is Black, called “racially motivated.”
“When he brought up narcotics dogs, the first thing he went to was marijuana, which stereotypically is associated with African American people,” said Ms. Jenkins.
Jenkins claims that the officer had an “accusatory tone: He wasn’t asking.”
When a student asked how the routine traffic stop had escalated into a drug search, she said, an officer replied that charter buses on that section of the highway were known for smuggling narcotics and people.
Though nervous and scared, Ms. Jenkins said she tried to remain calm, as students gathered near the window to peer outside and others sat in shock. She said she was worried that one wrong word could ignite the situation.
The university’s student newspaper, The Hornet, published an article about the traffic stop by Sydney Anderson, a member of the team.
Anderson wrote in the article that the police tried to have the players admit they had drugs, and she accused them of conducting an unlawful search without probable cause. She said the “majority of the team members had never experienced an encounter with the police, making this a traumatic incident for them.”
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman denies racial profiling fueled drug search of DSU female student athletes in traffic stop
In a counter, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman during a press conference on Tuesday said there was no act of racial profiling during a traffic stop that took place on April 20 on I-95 in Georgia.
“We initiated a traffic stop for a motor coach traveling northbound on I-95. This is part of our commercial interdiction detail on the interstate,” Bowman said on Tuesday.
“There were several commercial vehicles stopped that morning, including another bus where contraband was located.
“Due to the nature of the detail, a K9 was part of the stop and an alert was given by the K9. A K9 sniff of the exterior is not a search under the Fourth Amendment and does cause us to provide search of the vehicle.”
Bowman, who is Black, requested feedback from the women’s lacrosse team on ‘how the department could have communicated with them more appropriately,’ during his press conference where no questions were taken from attending media.
“More than anything, we want feedback from the Delaware lacrosse team on the communication approaches we can consider that we are not aware of. This is how true policing is done. This is what the department stands for under my leadership,” Bowman said as explanation at Tuesday’s press conference.