The president of Delaware State University, a historically Black institution, announced on Friday that the school would be filing a civil rights complaint after Georgia county officials searched the university’s women’s lacrosse team’s baggage.
“I am announcing the University’s intention to file a formal complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. The basis of this complaint will be police misconduct related to the April 20 incident in which Liberty County Sheriff’s Department officers conducted a constitutionally dubious ‘stop and search’ of a charter bus transporting the University’s women’s lacrosse team,” Delaware State President Tony Allen said in his opening statement during a press briefing.
Allen said the stop and search — which began as a minor traffic violation and escalated into a search for possible drugs — is “a violation of rights—the rights of every passenger on the bus and those of the driver.”
Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman authorized the release of one officer’s body camera footage from the four involved, Allen said.
The president said the footage backed up the school’s claims that personal items had been searched and that officials knew the women on the bus were students. He added that officials requested all of the body camera footage and relevant paperwork from the incident through a Freedom of Information Act, though the request had not yet been answered.
“Sheriff Bowman insists that personal items were not searched; the video clearly shows officers searching toiletries, searching clothes, and opening a family graduation gift. It also raises questions about the conduct of both the dog handler and the officer who remained on the bus asking questions of our students,” Allen said.
“Sheriff Bowman said the officers were unaware of the nature of the passengers on the bus; the video clearly demonstrates that the officers were aware that this was a busload of ‘school girls’ and that they were looking for drugs and drug paraphernalia,” the Delaware State president added.
In a statement on Tuesday, Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman said several vehicles, including the lacrosse team’s bus had been searched. He said it was “part of a commercial interdiction detail on” I-95, and that no offending items had been found on the team’s bus.
“At the time, or even in the weeks following, we were not aware that this stop was received as racial profiling. Although I do not believe any racial profiling took place based on the information I currently have, I welcome feedback from our community on ways that our law enforcement practices can be improved while still maintaining the law,” Bowman said.
Bowman also said he did not condone racial profiling and believed that officials had acted lawfully.
“As a veteran, former Georgia State Trooper, and sheriff of this department, I do not exercise racial profiling, allow racial profiling, or encourage racial profiling,” he added. “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.”
Top Delaware officials have condemned the incident, including Gov. Jay Carney (D-Del.), who called it “upsetting, concerning, and disappointing.”