Delaware State University intends to file a formal complaint with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division regarding allegations that the women’s lacrosse team was racially profiled during a traffic stop in Georgia.
President Tony Allen on Friday announced the historically black institution’s decision to press charges, after what he calls police misconduct by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia.
Allen said deputies “conducted a constitutionally questionable stop and search of a charter bus” carrying members of the women’s lacrosse team on April 20, 2022.
“We believe stop and search is a violation of rights. The rights of every passenger on this bus, the rights of the driver,” Allen said. “Our first and most immediate concern was the mental and physical well-being of our students and coaches and remains paramount.”
The team bus was heading north on Interstate 95 in Liberty County after a game in Florida when it was pulled over “on the pretext of a minor traffic violation,” Allen said in an earlier press release. Liberty County is on the Georgian coast, south of Savannah.
Video taken by players shows “law enforcement officers attempting to intimidate our student-athletes into confessing to possession of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia,” added Allen, noting that nothing illegal was discovered.
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said the bus was pulled over for violating a state law that requires a bus or coach to travel in the two rightmost lanes unless the bus or the coach is not preparing to turn left or move to or from a HOV lane, and the driver eventually received a warning.
Allen said he immediately launched an investigation into the incident and the university filed a Freedom of Information Act request, in accordance with Georgia law, requesting body camera footage of all persons involved at the scene and all documents relating to the incident.
Allen said the deadline for the application ended Thursday and he has yet to receive a response from Sheriff Bowman’s office.
“In the first six weeks of the year, HBCUs across the country, including Delaware State University, were the subject of a series of bomb threats. As our visibility has increased, so have the malevolent intentions of the worst among us. It’s a reality that too many Americans of color have to live with. So much so that even being pulled over for a minor traffic violation is concerning,” Allen said.
In body camera video of the traffic stop released by the sheriff’s office, deputies inform the driver that they pulled him over for a left lane violation. While one deputy checks a driver’s license, another asks a K-9 to sniff the vehicle.
At one point in the video, the assistant responsible for the license is heard asking another assistant: “Positive for the truck?” He then said, “There are a bunch of schoolgirls in the truck. Probably grass.
Minutes later, deputies are seen outside the bus putting on blue surgical-type gloves before starting the search. Deputies are seen rummaging through bags, looking for make-up bags and other items inside.
Eventually, a deputy gets back on the bus and tells the passengers that nothing illegal was found.
Saniya Craft, a first-year lacrosse player, told CNN in an earlier interview that she and her teammates stayed calm because they knew they weren’t doing anything illegal.
“It was traumatic,” she said, “and we were surprised, but we were really trying to stay steady and calm, trying not to question too much.”
“I just knew that if we were a different colored team – which is sad to say – it wouldn’t have been presented like that, and I don’t even believe we would have been searched,” she said. .
The stop happened as part of the department’s “trade ban detail,” Bowman, who is black, said Tuesday at a news conference, adding that other commercial vehicles were stopped that day. there, including a bus where “contraband” was found.
“Before boarding the coach, the deputy was unaware that this school was historically black or aware of the race of the occupants due to the height of the vehicle and the tinted windows,” Bowman said Tuesday.
“We weren’t aware that this shutdown was perceived as racial profiling,” Bowman said. “While I do not believe racial profiling has taken place based on the information currently available to me, I welcome feedback from our community on ways to improve our law enforcement practices while maintaining the law.”