Complaint Alleges Ga. Deputies Racially Profiled College Lacrosse Team
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- The HBCU called for a DOJ civil rights investigation into the April 20 traffic stop.
- Sheriff's deputies used a drug-sniffing dog to search the team's bus and luggage.
- The complaint cites discrepancies between the sheriff's account of search and body cam footage.
Delaware State University (DSU) this week asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for a civil rights investigation into what it called an illegal search by Georgia sheriff's deputies of a school-chartered bus.
On April 20, the university's women's lacrosse team was in the bus traveling on I-95 in Georgia when Liberty County sheriff's deputies pulled it over.
The school, one of the country's historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), alleges in its request for an investigation that the team was racially profiled and the bus was illegally pulled over and searched for narcotics.
Deputy body camera footage obtained by the school clearly shows discrepancies between the sheriff's account and deputies' actions, according to DSU's letter to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke.
The search, DSU asserts, was conducted "without consent, without probable cause, and without even articulable suspicion."
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman, who is Black, said during a press conference in early May that deputies pulled over the bus because it was illegally traveling in the left lane. Then, the sheriff said, a drug-sniffing dog alerted officers that there may be contraband in the storage compartment of the bus, which prompted the search.
"Before entering the motorcoach, the deputies were not aware 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 during the press conference.
Georgia law, in fact, exempts buses from laws banning trucks from driving in the left lane, the university's letter says. Likewise, body camera footage later revealed inconsistencies in the sheriff's narrative.
DSU stated in its letter to the DOJ that body camera footage shows that no "free air sniff" or "open-air alert" took place. Additionally, there doesn't seem to be a canine accompanying the officer who first pulled the bus over.
In that footage, the deputy leading the stop is heard telling a colleague, "There's a bunch of dang schoolgirls on the bus; there's probably some weed."
The sheriff also said in his statement that "no personal items on the bus, or persons, were searched." However, the body camera footage shows officers opening luggage and makeup bags, even going so far as to unwrap a gift, which a student had planned to open when they returned to school, to check its contents.
DSU President Tony Allen and General Counsel LaKresha Moultrie filed the civil rights and Title VI discrimination complaint Wednesday, releasing it to the university community at the same time.
"The illegal behavior exhibited by these officers, the repeated misstatements by the sheriff (both about the law and the facts), the attempt to obscure the facts, the failure to turn over immediately all of the videos from the encounter, and the racial disparity evident to anyone who views the videos make it clear that neither the sheriff's office nor local officials can be trusted to investigate this incident completely and impartially," the letter states.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
The majority of the women's lacrosse team, according to the university, is Black.
DSU lacrosse coach Pamella Jenkins told the school's student newspaper that she was proud of how the team reacted during the search.
"When I saw the police come on the bus and then accuse us of having narcotics, I was reminded that living as Black women in America, you are scrutinized when just trying to live," she said. "Unfortunately, this is our reality daily and when they go low we must go high."