Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings requested the U.S. Department of Justice investigate after a Delaware State University bus was stopped and searched in Liberty County.
“By all accounts, these young women represented their school and our state with class — and they were rewarded with a questionable-at-best search through their belongings in an effort to find contraband that did not exist,” Jennings wrote in a letter to the DOJ. “Not only did the deputies find nothing illegal in the bags, they did not issue a single ticket for the alleged traffic infraction.”
Delaware Gov. John Carney and the state’s congressional delegation have condemned the incident.
“I have watched video of this incident – it is upsetting, concerning, and disappointing,” Carney said in a statement, The Hill reported. “Moments like these should be relegated to part of our country’s complicated history, but they continue to occur with sad regularity in communities across our country. It’s especially hard when it impacts our own community.”
Liberty County in coastal Georgia is about 260 miles from Atlanta. A deputy stopped the bus because the driver was violating a state law requiring that type of vehicle to travel in the two right-hand lanes, the county’s sheriff said.
“Before entering the motorcoach, the deputy was not aware that this school was historically Black or aware of the race of the occupants due to the height of the vehicle and tinted windows,” Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman, who is Black, said in an online post. “A canine sniff of the exterior of a vehicle is not a search under the Fourth Amendment and does provide cause to search the vehicle.”
The coach of the women’s lacrosse team at the predominantly Black university believes South Georgia deputies racially profiled her team during an April 20 traffic stop that is being investigated by local law enforcement and the school.
The Delaware State University lacrosse team bus was returning from Florida when it was pulled over on I-95 in Liberty County, head coach Pamella Jenkins said. Six white deputies and a police dog searched the bus for drugs and found none, the coach said.
A video recorded by someone on the bus shows a deputy asking the team to tell them now if anyone has marijuana, devices to smoke or weigh it or other “questionable” items.
One student asked the deputies why they wanted to search the bus, Jenkins said. The deputy said that they frequently find drugs or human trafficking during traffic stops, the coach recalled.
According to Sheriff Bowman, deputies had been conducting traffic stops on commercial vehicles that morning, and a police K-9 was involved. Several vehicles had already been stopped before the Delaware team’s bus, he said. The driver of the Delaware bus was issued a warning, Bowman said.
His department is reviewing the traffic stop, Bowman said. He requested feedback from those on the bus.
“From what I have gathered, I believe that the stop was legal but I also understand my duty to help the public understand law enforcement while seeking ways to improve services,” he said.